Match Preview: Wanderers v Western United

Our A-League Women’s side head into their clash against ladder leaders Western United knowing that a win could seal their place in the finals series for the first time since 2020.

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After something of a blip through February, the Wander Women have overcome a tough schedule and some injury issues to emerge with seven points in their three matches being played within the space of seven days, with a draw and strong victory against Canberra United in back-to-back games, followed by a gritty win over the Perth Glory on Saturday.

In a game of few chances in the first half, the game was settled by a wonder goal from Sophie Harding; after a brilliant team move with quick one touch passing, the striker was able to volley the ball from nearly 30 yards out to lob goalkeeper Morgan Aquino and secure a vital three points for the Wanderers.

They had to hold off a late attacking charge from the visitors, but a defence led by Amy Harrison and Vicky Bruce, alongside a confident and commanding goalkeeping performance from Sham Khamis meant the Wanderers were able to keep a clean sheet for the first time since January.

The win ended Perth’s finals chances and significantly boosted those of the Wanderers, who now sit in sixth place, three points clear of Newcastle, whilst also having a better goal difference than the Jets.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 25: Victoria Bruce of Western Sydney in action during the A-League Women round six match between Western United and Western Sydney Wanderers at City Vista Recreation Reserve Pitch 1, on November 25, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

With just two games left, a draw may be enough for the Wanderers to qualify should the Jets lose their match against the Victory, whilst a Wanderers win combined with a draw or loss for Newcastle would also be enough for the Red and Black.

They also have key players returning in the nick of time, with Harding shaking off an ankle issue that ruled her out in the second match against Canberra, with her brilliant goal taking her into double figures for the season.

Maliah Morris has also returned from injury issues to play well off the bench, with her last-gasp equaliser against Canberra in a 1-1 draw potentially being a pivotal moment in the Wanderers season.

GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 21: Maliah Morris of the Wanderers with the ball as Tiarna Karambasis of the Mariners defends during the A-League Women round 13 match between Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers at Industree Group Stadium, on January 21, 2024, in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

They have also had help in attack from the likes of Holly Caspers, who has five goals and seven assists, and Ella Buchanan, who scored her first goal and has performed well on the wing as a late season injury replacement.

They will hope to also continue a strong run against their opponents this weekend, who have experienced a resurgence under new coach Kat Smith, who coached the Wanderers last season.

After a tough start to the season under previous manager Mark Torcaso, a run of one loss in ten games – including six wins on the bounce – saw them shoot up to the top of the table at the start of March.

Their form has hit a bump in the last couple of weeks, with consecutive defeats against our crosstown rivals, and more surprisingly at home to the Newcastle Jets, where they fell to a 3-1 defeat.

Despite Smith being known as a defensive manager, Western United have the second best attack in the league with 35 goals, and they have a worse defensive record than the Wanderers.

They also lost in the reverse fixture, where two late goals from Harding and Cushla Rue earned the Wanderers their first victory of the season.

United also lost the last time they travelled to Western Sydney, falling to a 2-1 loss after Amy Harrison scored the winning goal early in the second half.

The Wanderers have only lost to Western United once in three games, and continuing the positive record could all but secure a place in the finals they have been dreaming of.