Canberra United have defeated Brisbane Roar 3-2 to claim the W-League title and complete a historic undefeated season.
Golden Boot winner Michelle Heyman scored twice as Canberra United was crowned Westfield W-League champions after a thrilling 3-2 victory over Brisbane Roar at McKellar Stadium.
The final was everything that the supporters had hoped it would be, stirring from start to finish, with plenty of twists and turns, plots and sub-plots and some fantastic goals.
After epic semi-finals clashes last weekend it was unsurprising that both teams named unchanged teams for the big clash.
Tameka Butt almost got on the end of a Roar attack in the opening five minutes but was unable to reach a firmly struck through ball.
Shortly afterwards United were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position when Hayley Raso was bundled off the ball but, from Grace Gill’s delivery, Taryn Hemmings headed over.
It didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken.
In the 11th minute Brisbane turned over cheap ball in midfield allowing Raso to find Ashleigh Sykes in space. The forward steadied herself and released Heyman with an inch perfect pass and the Westfield W-League Golden Boot did the rest, taking the ball in her stride and sliding her shot past Casey Dumont in the Roar goal to give Canberra the lead.
United’s incisive attacking was causing problems for the Roar and their pace was rewarded again seven minutes later.
Gill was the architect with a pass of sublime precision to free the strong-running Heyman. The forward burst away into the penalty area and played a square pass into the path of Ashleigh Sykes who slid in to poke the ball over the line and into the empty net to send the home crowd into delirium.
The Roar hit back, showing their champion quality.
Forced to substitute Joanne Burgess with a knee injury, Brisbane sent on ‘super-sub’ Gielnik and, unbelievably, within seconds she had halved the deficit. Butt made inroads down the left and sent over a peach of a cross which Gielnik struck first time, low and hard, beyond the reach of Lydia Williams for a cracking reply.
And Brisbane almost drew level half an hour in. Nicole Sykes dawdled in possession and was robbed by Lana Harch. Harch played in Vedrana Popovic who in turn found Catherine Cannuli whose low shot was pushed around the post by a stretching Williams. Almost immediately United broke and Raso and Ashleigh Sykes found themselves two on one, only for Raso to take the wrong option as the move petered out, as a pulsating first half ended 2-1.
Even with the temperatures soaring at the start of the second half the tempo didn’t flag as both teams chased and harried every cause.
United began to use Hemmings on the overlap and, from a foray into Roar territory, United restored their two-goal lead.
Hemmings’ burst won a corner and Gill floated over a sensational cross to Heyman who, leaping highest, sent a firm downward header into the back of the net.
The Roar were handed a lifeline in the 63rd minute when Caitlin Cooper was adjudged to have brought down Butt in the penalty area. The attacking midfielder dusted herself off to slot home the penalty, sending Williams the wrong way, to keep up her remarkable record of scoring in every Westfield W-League Grand Final.
And the action didn’t end there. Gielnik was close to drawing the team’s level when she sprinted onto a pass and was denied by an alert Williams who advanced sharply to block bravely at the strikers’ feet while United responded to the threat by taking off the explosive, but tiring, Raso for Emma Kete and replacing the effective Gill with Munoz.
Heyman almost had a hat-trick 12 minutes from time when Nicole Sykes swung over a delightful cross that the prolific goal-scorer met with a firm header which flashed narrowly over the crossbar with Dumont statuesque.
As the minutes ticked away the tension grew and the atmosphere, already electric, became even noisier as every pass and tackle was met with deafening cheers.
Needing to chase the game Roar sent on Olga Cebrian Garcia for Laura Alleway, who had suffered a knock, in attempt to force the match into extra-time with a late, late equaliser.
United, sensing glory, seemed content to keep possession for as long as possible and frustrate Brisbane who was forced to send long crosses into the area in an effort to break through.
But with Sally Shipard and Jennifer Bisset, on her 20th birthday, imperious in the centre of the park United held on to claim their first Westfield W-League title.
“It was a great game with a great crowd, with amazing football,” said Canberra coach Jitka Klimkova. “Both teams played an attacking style.”
Asked what message was delivered to the team when the Roar struck back for a second time, Klimkova said: “Cool down, keep possession, we didn-t need to hurry to score other goals.
“We tried some killer passes during the second half. But I think the better team won today.”
Klimkova reserved special praise for two-goal heroine Heyman. “Our big weapon is Michelle Heyman,” she said. “Of course they have (Emily) Gielnik who is a similar kind of player. Michelle helped us a lot today. We said before the game we would score with a set-piece and we did.
“She (Michelle) improved a lot over the season and she now uses her body a lot more than before which is a big advantage.”
Brisbane Roar coach Jeff Hopkins said recovering from conceding two early goals proved a step too far. “The two early goals set us back on our heels, but as the game went on we got back into it,” Hopkins said.
“In the first half we probably created as many chances as we have done in the last couple of games.
“They are an amazing group of players and seem to overcome all hurdles that are put in front of them.”
“We ran of time at the end but maybe ran out of legs at the end too. Maybe last week-s game caught up with us a little bit. I felt that if we had just a little more freshness in our legs, we could have got back into the game.”
Westfield W-League 2012 Grand Final
Saturday 28th January 2012
Canberra United 3 (Michelle Heyman 11′, 56′, Ashleigh Sykes 18′)
Brisbane Roar 2 (Emily Gielnik 22′, Tameka Butt 63′ (pen))
Canberra United: 1. Lydia Williams, 2. Caitlin Cooper, 7. Ellie Brush, 8. Hayley Raso (17. Emma Kete 69′), 9. Grace Gill (6. Caitlin Munoz 75′), 11. Michelle Heyman, 13. Nicole Sykes, 14. Ashleigh Sykes, 15. Sally Shipard, 18. Taryn Hemmings, 19. Jennifer Bisset Substitutes not used: 3. Georgia Yeoman-Dale, 10. Snez Veljanovska, 20. Aroon Clansey
YELLOW CARDS: 15. Sally Shipard
RED CARDS: Nil
Brisbane Roar: 1. Casey Dumont, 2. Laura Alleway (18. Olga Cebrian Garcia 84′), 4. Clare Polkinghorne (19. Ellen Beaumont 71′), 5. Brooke Spence, 6. Joanne Burgess (7. Emily Gielnik 22′), 7. Kim Carroll, 9. Catherine Cannuli, 10. Lana Harch, 11. Aivi Luik, 13. Tameka Butt, 14. Vedrana Popovic Substitutes not used: 20. Hoshimi Kishi, 21. Rebecca Price
YELLOW CARDS: 2. Laura Alleway, 17. Emily Gielnik RED CARDS: Nil
Referee: Kate Jaciewicz