All To Play For In Final Round
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Story by Jeremy Ruane
Everything's on the line in next Sunday's final round of National Women's League action, after a shock defeat for reigning champions Northern Football on November 20 threw the play-off places wide open.
The title-holders were overturned 2-1 by Capital Football, who in winning swept to the top of the table and booked themselves a play-off spot, even though they'll be looking on from the sidelines next weekend.
A tight first half saw Briar Palmer go close for the home team just before half-time at Petone Memorial Park, and it was the wing wizard who set up the opening goal in the 57th minute, Palmer's pinpoint corner picking out Jayme-Lee Hunter, who scrambled home from close range.
Capital were still celebrating when Northern stormed straight downfield from the kick-off and equalized through Jane Barnett. But the home team edged ahead again twenty minutes from time when substitute Emily Morison unleashed a quite stunning volley with her first touch of the ball to score what proved to be the winner in an enthralling encounter.
Northern drop to second on the table, ahead of Canterbury United Pride on goal difference after the Mainlanders mauled Waikato-Bay of Plenty 6-1 at John Kerkhof Park.
Two goals in three minutes before the twenty minute mark had the home team on the ropes in Cambridge, Macey Fraser and Aimee Phillips - capping off a gorgeous move which also involved Emma Clarke and Annalie Longo - doing the damage.
WaiBOP, who sorely missed the cutting edge which the absent Kim-E Maguire and Helen Arjomandi would have provided had they been present, were denied a goal either side of the break by Victoria Esson, who produced a couple of stunning saves to keep out efforts from Leah Gubb and Emma Cawte.
But Gubb potted a long-range effort four minutes into the second spell to throw the home team a lifeline, only for them to throw it away just as quickly, Phillips netting her second goal of the game straight from the kick-off to restore Canterbury's two-goal advantage.
Within six minutes, two Holly Pascoe goals put the result beyond doubt, while Rebecca Lake headed home United's sixth goal seven minutes from time to wrap up the scoring and leave WaiBOP needing to beat Northern next weekend to make the play-offs at the title-holders' expense.
In Palmerston North, Central Football scored their first win of the campaign by edging Southern United 2-1 at Memorial Park, where Tilly James and United's Mikayla Grey exchanged goals inside the first twenty-five minutes of the match.
Tori-Jan Lyne-Lewis fired Central in front seven minutes into the second half, and after Brooke Wylie had kept out Southern's efforts to level the scores, Central hit the post with eight minutes remaining, after which they held on to secure the points.
Next weekend sees the final round of round-robin action taking place, and as a result, the end of the campaign for four teams. Southern and Auckland meet at Tahuna Park at 1pm on Saturday with just pride at stake, while Capital have the bye in this round.
Sunday's fare sees Canterbury entertaining Central at English Park from 11am, while two hours later, Northern and WaiBOP lock horns on the QBE Stadium Tigerturf in a match which will decide which of these two teams extends their season into December.
Capital Football 2 (J. Hunter (57), E. Morison (70)), Northern Football 1 (J. Barnett (58)) HT 0-0.
Central Football 2 (T. James, T. Lyne-Lewis (52)), Southern United 1 (M. Grey) HT 1-1.
Waikato-Bay of Plenty 1 (L. Gubb (49)), Canterbury United Pride 6 (M. Fraser (17), A. Phillips (20, 50), H. Pascoe (54, 56), R. Lake (83)) HT 0-2.