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Dominant Dunedin Sink "Swans" To Claim Cup
Story by Jeremy Ruane

A Shontelle Smith-inspired Dunedin Technical stunned Forrest Hill-Milford United 4-2 at QBE Stadium on September 9 to win their maiden NZ Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup, the first time in the twenty-five year history of the competition that a team from the country's southernmost federation has won the trophy.

"The Swans" enjoyed the better of the first five minutes, but that was as good as it got for Ben Bate's charges, who very soon found themselves under the cosh from a Dunedin side which took full advantage of the raft of mistakes United made throughout proceedings, and punished them mercilessly.

Their first threat came from Mikayla Gray, who wriggled through four challenges before finally being thwarted by the combination of Hannah Mackay-Wright and Chloe Wilson.

Dunedin threatened again in the seventh minute, Chelsea Whittaker - picked out by Mikaela Hunt's free-kick - drilling her shot straight at Emily Couchman. Seconds later, Talisha Green gifted possession to Whittaker, who played Emily Morison through the middle, only to steer her shot beyond Couchman's left-hand post.

When the southerners next attacked, they took the lead, Smith's tenth minute corner being headed home powerfully from close range by Hunt, who was to be as dominant in defence as she was on the scoresheet.

After Jane Barnett had fired a twenty-five yard rangefinder past Jade Middleditch's right-hand post - Dunedin's 'keeper didn't have a shot to save during the entire match - Lara Wall scored the goal of the final in the seventeenth minute to double Dunedin's lead.

Scampering clear of Wilson near half-way, she slalomed in-field before doing Mackay-Wright an absolute treat on the edge of the penalty area, at which point Wall fair battered the ball beyond Couchman into the top far corner - 2-0, and as good a solo goal as you'll see in a Cup Final anywhere on the planet.

United had to score next, and did, in the twentieth minute clearance. Wilson's powerful headed clearance was gathered by Sammi Tawharu, who laid the ball back for Kenya Brooke to ping forward. Barnett was onto it in a flash and battled through two challenges before burying the ball beyond Middleditch - game on!

For all of five minutes. For in the 25th minute, Dunedin restored their two-goal advantage with a move inspired by Smith, who was getting through a power of work in midfield as well as igniting attacks from deep.

On this occasion, she sent Gray racing down the right, and after getting the better of Brooke she looked up to find Morison completely unmarked in the heart of the penalty area. Pass, goal, the striker's finish leaving Couchman clawing at thin air.

3-1 became 4-1 in the 33rd minute, and again, Smith was the architect of the goal. Her set-piece delivery from half-way was pinpoint accurate, Gray meeting the ball with a fine flying downward header which the diving figure of Couchman got her fingers to, but couldn't keep out.

There appeared to be no way back for "The Swans" from that blow, but in truth, they didn't deserve to get back into the match. Their display was error-strewn, with passes under-hit or misplaced, and clumsy challenges galore, while it was clear that a week's worth of Secondary Schoolgirls tournament football had taken its toll on certain individuals.

But there was another factor, too - Dunedin's desire to win the cup bordered on the voracious! They wanted this soooooo badly - there was no way they were heading home without the silverware!

United certainly helped their cause, and this was best summed up in the final minute of the first half, when Green's under-hit pass to Mackay-Wright was pounced on by Morison. She swiftly sent Gray racing through the inside-right channel, but Brooke had just enough of an advantage to be able to thwart the last attack of the half.

Four minutes into the second spell, United were afforded a lifeline by Barnett, who rifled home a twenty-five yarder into the far corner of the net after receiving a pass from Green, whose ball forward had been cleared back to her.

Straight away, Dunedin responded, Smith leading the charge via another free-kick from distance. United failed to clear it, and Kirsty Hayr should have done better than to volley over from close range with the goal at her mercy.

Knowing they needed two more goals to draw level, United pressed on, Arabella Maynard's fine interception of a Smith pass resulting in her nutmegging Hayr before threading a ball through for Barnett, one which the midfielder just overhit.

Smith featured again in the 57th minute, nearly scoring the goal her performance fully merited. Swooping on a stray pass from Wilson, she looked up to spot Couchman off her line and duly launched a forty yarder towards the target.

The ball crashed against the crossbar and appeared to bounce down over the line before spinning back into play, but with no one in authority in a position to determine yay or nay, referee Nadia Browning - not her best game by any means - allowed play to continue.

Unperturbed, Smith went for goal again from another free-kick sixty seconds later, with Couchman, who was back-pedalling furiously in vain to try to keep out the crossbar rattler, this time pawing the ball out from the top near corner of her net.

United were doing their best to get back into the game, but their passes weren't sticking, and all they could muster in the final half-hour of play was a thirty-yarder from Maynard which wasn't far away.

Dunedin, by contrast, could have extended their advantage in the time remaining, with Morison denied at close quarters by Couchman after another Smith corner, while in the 72nd minute, Wall cut in from the left and unleashed another crossbar-rattler to effectively sound the death knell on "The Swans"' cup hopes.

The Football South Premier Women's League champions confidently played out time, but their cup-winning dreams were a reality long before the final whistle sounded, a triumph which means they've completed that rarest of feats - going an entire season unbeaten in both league and cup, an honour they richly deserved on this display.

FHMU: Couchman; Wilson, Mackay-Wright, Brooke (Martin, 69); Green, Maynard, Luxton, Steinmetz, Waters (Pesce, 79); Barnett, Tawharu (booked, 90).

Dunedin: Middleditch; Kennard, Hunt, Smaill, Seath; Whittaker, Hayr, Smith; Gray, Morison (Anderson, 82), Wall.

Referee: Naomi Browning

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