29 March 2023

Canberra United prepares for a hard-earned place in the A-League Women playoffs

| Tim Gavel
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Grace Maher celebrating

Canberra United’s Grace Maher celebrates after a penalty shot. Photo: Canberra United Facebook.

Canberra United deserves to be recognised as one of the great success stories in Australian sport at the moment.

Three times this season in the A-League Women’s competition they have lifted themselves off the canvas.

They could have been excused for going into their shells in late January after two 5-0 losses on successive weekends. The first was against Wellington on 22 January. The second 5-0 loss came a week later against Western United.

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It was described by commentators as one of the darkest days in the club’s history.

The same commentators also questioned Canberra United’s place in the competition. There were calls for a top-down review.

Canberra United celebrate the 3-nil win over Western United

Canberra United celebrate the 3-0 win over Western United. Photo: Canberra United Facebook.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the Canberra United coaching team, led by Njegosh Popovich, was not panicked into making wholesale changes to their game plan.

There was the calming influence of senior players in the team, including veterans Grace Maher, Ellie Brush, Nickoletta Flannery and Michelle Heyman.

Following the second 5-0 loss, Canberra United has gone on an unbeaten run of seven games.

This includes last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Western United, the ladder leaders, and the same team that Canberra United lost 5-0 against less than two months ago.

There was also the 2-1 victory over Sydney FC. This was Canberra United’s first win over Sydney since 2018.

That win, though, was shrouded in controversy. Canberra United was stripped of the points because it was deemed on the day that they used an illegal substitute. A 3-0 win was awarded to Sydney FC, handing the three competition points to Sydney.

This resulted in a dramatic change in the competition ladder.

Canberra United will have to dig deep against third-placed Melbourne City. Photo: Canberra United Facebook.

The decision to dock Canberra United the points and award Sydney FC the victory was later overturned. The reversal was made by Football Australia so much later that the Canberra team played several games with the ruling hanging over their heads.

Again, Canberra United showed incredible resilience while the appeal was being decided upon.

During this uncertainty, Canberra United defeated Western Sydney 3-0 and Adelaide 4-2, followed by a 1-1 draw against Western Sydney and a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory.

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Then, in the wake of the Football Australia decision to overturn the decision to dock the competition points secured in the win over Sydney FC, Canberra United came out last weekend and destroyed the top side, Western United, in Melbourne.

This Sunday in Melbourne, fifth-placed Canberra takes on third-placed Melbourne City in the final game before the playoffs, with the top four making it through.

Canberra is just one point away from the fourth-placed Melbourne Victory.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday, this season has already been a highlight in the club’s history, with the team recovering from what many outside the playing group viewed as a mountain too high.

Canberra United takes on Melbourne City on Sunday (2 April) in Melbourne.

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Stephen Saunders8:23 am 31 Mar 23

One of Canberra’s wonderfully enduring sports stories, Michelle Heyman is a legend and a role model.

But just as well FA overturned that “home town” APL points deduction, I would have handed in my badge.

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