A LATE kick-off, the pressure of wearing the red-hot favourites tag and a talented and committed Monaro Panthers opposition – these were the daunting ingredients for Belconnen United’s qualifying final.
But the nightmare didn’t materialise, with Belconnen securing its place in the ACT Women’s Premier League grand final via a 2-1 victory over the Panthers at Hawker Football Centre on Sunday.
The result didn’t come without a tremor of alarm, though. Brittany Palombi’s spectacular corner kick in the 27th minute had given Monaro the lead and forced United to come from behind.
It was an unfamiliar route to victory for the Blue Devils, who won all of their 21 regular season matches in commanding fashion.
But goals either side of half-time from leading scorer Michelle Heyman and Sian Minary-Bland guaranteed the League champions a spot in the competition’s scheduled climax a fortnight from now.
There, they will meet either Canberra FC, who continued their march toward a maiden grand final appearance with a 4-0 demolition of Weston-Molonglo FC on Saturday, or Monaro.
The Panthers’ reward for finishing the regular campaign in second place is a second chance to qualify for the decider in next week’s preliminary final.
Monaro and Canberra FC will do battle at McKellar Park this weekend.
And the Angelo Maralit-coached Panthers – playing in their first season of top-flight football – will be confident of progressing to the decider on the back of their inspired performance against Belconnen.
The Blue Devils burst out of the blocks at a frantic pace and seized control of the match from the outset.
Striker Michelle Heyman and left-wing Catherine Brown were particularly lively, exhibiting all of the skills and class that helped them land W-League contracts Canberra United.
Monaro had been at full stretch not to fall well behind during the opening 20 minutes, with Heyman going close to handing Belconnen the lead three times in quick succession.
But the Panthers warmed to the task at hand as the match entered its second quarter.
Renee Suine was the standout, directing play in the midfield with authority and winning the corner from which Palombi curled in the all-important opening goal.
The joy was short-lived, however, and parity was restored when Heyman finished off a swift move up field with a tidy finish in the shadows of half-time to grab her 23rd goal of the year.
Heyman had numerous opportunities to send her side into the lead during the opening exchanges of the second-half, but failed in her execution as she hit the post once and sent another of her efforts just wide of an open goal.
The spark Belconnen required came through the 68th minute introduction of substitute Luisa Marzotto, with the United woman making her presence felt a mere 60 seconds after entering the contest.
Marzotta expertly brought down a wild delivery into the area before heading the ball to the flying Minary-Bland who made no mistake with a lobbed effort over Mara to net the decisive goal.
Belconnen United:1. Maja BLASCH, 2. Katie WOODMAN, 3. Amy SPENCE, 4. Jess PRITCHARD, 5. Sofia MERKOUREAS, 8. Michaela DAY, 9. Erica WEATHERLEY, 10. Michelle HEYMAN, 12. Sian MINARY-BLAND, 14. Catherine BROWN, 15. Jessica McEWAN. Substitutes used: 6. Sam PRICE, 7. Nicole JALOCHA, 16. Luisa MARZOTTO
Monaro Panthers: 1. Jocelyn MARA, 2. Melku JOHNSTONE, 4. Olivia MOORE, 5. Lara WESTON, 6. Becky WATTS, 7. Elizabeth McPHERSON, 8. Zoe SZEREMET, 9. Hiwot JOHNSTONE, 10. Ashleigh PALOMBI, 11. Brittany PALOMBI, 12. Ashley ARMSTRONG.Substitutes used:14. Jess LEAMEY, 15. Natalie DE MARCO
Discipline: YELLOW CARDS:5. Lara WESTON (Monaro Panthers)
Discipline: YELLOW CARDS:
Discipline: YELLOW CARDS:
Match Officials: Samantha Ockerby (referee), Jarryd Cook, Virginia Henderson