Westfield W-League 2018/19 report card: Canberra United
Missing the Westfield W-League Finals Series in 2017/18 was a rare blip for Canberra United, a club that has maintained a consistent presence in the title race. As the new season dawned, the challenge was on for a return to the higher echelons of the ladder.
In her second season at the helm, head coach Heather Garriock said goodbye to Westfield Matildas striker Michelle Heyman - she later joined Adelaide United - but still infused her squad with a number of internationals keen to impress in a World Cup year.
We take a look at how Canberra fared as they looked to return to the top four.
Record: 3W, 4D, 5L
Top scorer: Rhoda Mulaudzi (4 goals)
Most appearances: Nikki Flannery, Sham Khamis, Rhoda Mulaudzi – 12 games
Despite finishing second to last on the Westfield W-League ladder, Canberra enjoyed a solid first half of the season.
After comfortably beating defending Champions Melbourne City 2-0 at McKellar park to open their campaign, United went 4-1 up against Perth Glory only to concede three goals in the last 10 minutes and end up sharing the points.
A tough 1-0 loss on the road against Newcastle Jets was a bitter pill to swallow and was followed by another trip, this time to Adelaide, that saw them return empty-handed after a 2-0 reverse.
Back in the nation’s capital, however, they turned on the style, seeing off eventual Champions Sydney FC 2-0 to leave themselves well and truly in the mix for a top-four spot.
A 2-2 draw at lowly Western Sydney Wanderers was an opportunity missed, and the subsequent 3-0 loss to Melbourne City at AAMI Park compounded the misery.
A draw back home against Brisbane Roar was another frustrating day's work after going a goal up early on, only to be pegged back by Roar's top scorer Allira Toby.
A late penalty dashed their hopes of a point away to Glory, while a 1-0 win over Adelaide United in Canberra gave them the slimmest of hopes.
With their match against Melbourne Victory postponed due to lightning they were lacking in points before a 4-1 thumping by the Roar in Brisbane ended any lingering hopes for the season.
2018/19 W-LEAGUE SEASON REPORT CARDS: Adelaide United; Brisbane Roar
BEST OF: Stunning free-kicks of the Westfield W-League 2018/19 Season
VIDEOS: Remember the Westfield W-League 2018/19 season that was
BEST OF: Top long-range stunners of the Westfield W-League 2018/19 Season
While the ladder may show Canberra finished second last, they were certainly an opponent to take seriously, as wins over City and Sydney show.
Both performances were cool, calm and professional, but the way in which United dismantled the defending Champions back in Round 1 was a sight to behold.
Goals from South African recruit Rhoda Mulaudzi and Westfield Matilda Ellie Carpenter earned the points, but it could have been more had fellow Matilda Lydia Williams not made five top-drawer saves to keep the visitors in it.
Mulaudzi, who was called up by South Africa for March's Cyprus Cup competition, turned out to be a shrewd piece of recruiting by Garriock, knocking in four goals.
She was joined by Refiloe Jane - the pair becoming the first South Africans to play in the Westfield W-League - and she too showed her worth, scoring twice and providing an assist from midfield.
Australia international Carpenter continued her fine form in her second season at the club, chipping in with three goals from right-back.
Nikki Flannery and Karly Roestbakken both took the next step after coming through the club’s academy, each making 10 starts as they transformed into first-team regulars after playing support roles in seasons past.
Each scored a goal, with Roestbakken earning the December nomination for NAB Young Footballer of the Year.
After a bleak season, fans have plenty of reasons to believe the future of the ‘team in green’ is in safe hands for the coming years.
Consecutive absences from the post-season action is not what supporters would have expected after a positive recruitment drive in the off-season.
Failures to win against the Wanderers away and Roar at home deprived Canberra of crucial points, while an inability to hold on for draws on the road meant their points tally was never going to cut it for finals.
The continued emergence of youth is a bright note, however, and the production line that is the nation’s capital continues to pump out players of a high standard.
Retention of those players, and perhaps some additional support up top, could go a long way to ensuring Canberra returns to the top four next season.