Latsko's Semi Final winner keeps Sydney FC's Championship defence alive
Veronica Latsko was Sydney FC’s hero after her early strike proved enough to down Melbourne Victory, 1-0, and put the defending Westfield W-League Champions back into the Grand Final.
The 24-year-old American striker showed her poacher’s instincts in the 14th minute to net her third goal of the season, a campaign which started late as she recovered from an ACL tear that forced her to spend six months on the sidelines.
After the Sky Blues took a slender lead into the sheds, Victory came out all guns blazing in the second half but the home side’s most dangerous threats – Natasha Dowie and Darian Jenkins – were kept shackled at Epping Stadium.
Amy Jackson forced a smart save from Sydney custodian Aubrey Bledsoe and Melina Ayres fizzed a pair of long-range efforts agonisingly past the frame of the visitors’ goal as, much like last year, Big V could not capitalise in front of their own fans and fell at the first hurdle of the Finals Series.
The Harbour City side earned revenge on their Big Blue rivals for a 3-1 defeat two weeks ago that saw last year’s Premiers snatch second place in the ladder from Sydney, who slipped down to third and lost their home advantage for the Westfield W-League Finals Series opener.
But it did not matter as the Navy Blue could not repeat their Round 14 performance. Ante Juric’s side also finished third in the 2018/19 campaign before going on to lift the Westfield W-League title with a pair of away wins in the Finals Series. After a third-placed finish this season, the three-time Champions will be determined to make history repeat itself once again.
Longo spurns chance to fire Victory ahead
Coming off that home-advantage clinching win against the Sky Blues a fortnight ago, Victory started on the front foot and it took a timely interception from Westfield Matilda Alanna Kennedy to prevent Melina Ayres from turning Natasha Dowie’s delivery towards goal after three minutes.
In the evenly-matched opening stages, the Big V were the more enterprising with the ball and Dowie used her strength to open up space for Annalie Longo to shoot in the 11th minute but the New Zealander could not direct her 12-yard effort away from the waiting arms of Aubrey Bledsoe.
Latsko proves lethal from close range
The Sky Blues had to wait for the 14th minute before their first meaningful attack but Latsko made it count when the Houston Dash loanee slipped the attention of her marker and raced to the near post to prod Ally Green’s cross past Casey Dumont and into the corner of the Navy Blue’s net.
With Sydney buzzing from taking the lead, Sophia Huerta threatened on the Sydney right with an low, driven attempt that was saved by Dumont in the 17th minute before the American attacker fired the ball across the face of goal a minute later after being freed by teenager Taylor Ray’s searching through ball.
Bledsoe called into action to keep Victory at bay
Latsko was soon down in a heap after suffering a knock to her head during a challenge but, after being cleared by medical staff, she was back causing problems for the home side, although Victory came closest to netting before half-time when Angela Beard’s whipped delivered found Ayres in first-half stoppage time but the 20-year-old's looping header was plucked out of the sky by Bledsoe.
Victory upped the tempo after the break and Bledsoe was soon called on again on 53 minutes when the American shot-stopper dived low to her right to repel Amy Jackson’s shot on the spin and, from the resulting corner, Bledsoe half-cleared with a punch and Haley Hanson drilled over the crossbar from the edge of Sydney’s penalty area.
Ayres brings the danger as Sydney cling on
It was one-way traffic as Ayres went down in the area under a physical challenge from Kennedy as Victory penalty appeals were waved away. The loose ball almost fell to an alert Dowie and, after a scramble, Longo skewed her effort off target. Moments later as the clock ticked past the hour, Ayres showed silky footwork to create space for herself but her 25-yard effort skewed off target.
An almost identical chance opened up for the 20-year-old in the 67th minute, this time Ayres' curling effort bent millimetres away from the top corner of Bledsoe's frame as the Navy Blue continued to lay siege to the Sydney goal.
Jenkins watches Victory hopes ebb away
The away side continued to soak up the pressure as the hosts piled forward but Sydney showed their own intentions on the breakaway, as substitute Mackenzie Hawkesby made a nuisance of herself and Golden Boot-winner Remy Siemsen lifted an attempt over the crossbar on 76 minutes.
The Navy Blue were getting desperate in the closing stages and Jenkins gave Sydney a fright when her 25-yard angled strike whistled past Bledsoe’s goal in the 87th minute. But the visitors held out to advance to their seventh Westfield W-League Grand Final, where they will face the winners of Sunday’s clash between Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers.
Westfield W-League Semi Final
Melbourne City vs Western Sydney Wanderers
Date: Sunday, 15 March 2020
Venue: ABD Stadium, Broadmeadows
Kick-off: 1:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: FOX Sports, ABC TV
Stream: ABC iview, Kayo Sports, MyFootball App