The penultimate round of the Armidale Women’s Premier League will kick off in a matter of hours, with the Round 14 games to get underway tonight at 6pm.
It’s a huge night for the second-placed Norths Red Women as they challenge South Armidale Stars at New England Mutual Armidale Sportsground. Norths are currently three points behind top-ranked Armidale City Westside; however, the ladder leaders will secure an automatic three points as the PLC Thunder have forfeited their match.
That means that unless Norths win tonight against the third-placed Stars, Armidale City Westside will be crowned minor premiers. If Norths do get the job done though, the two top-ranked teams will meet in a Round 15 top-of-the-table thriller with the minor premiership on the line.
Tonight’s other fixture sees fifth-placed East Armidale challenge sixth-placed TAS. It is a significant game for East Armidale as they sit just one point outside the top four with two rounds to go. The Thunder occupy fourth spot, so a draw or a win will ensure East Armidale overtake them heading into Round 15.
Armidale City Westside are the defending champions in the Armidale Women’s Premier League, and they are on a roll again this year. Not including tonight’s fixture, they are undefeated with 11 wins from as many matches, having scored 59 goals in eight games (three of their wins were by forfeit) and only conceded five times as they continue to click at both ends of the field.
Their most recent match was against PLC Thunder last Friday night when they continued their brilliant form with a dominant 6-1 victory. The goal they conceded was remarkably the first since May following seven clean sheets.
The Westside coach is Kate Eldering, who is also part of the team’s successful backline. She said that there was a great environment among the playing group and their on-field performances have benefitted as a result.
“Being a part of this team is really good. I love all the girls. We are all really close,” she said.
“We have really good team chemistry, and we are training most Wednesday nights, which has been good. That really helps. We enjoy kicking the ball around together.
“We have been going pretty well this season. We’ve got a few younger girls this year which has been nice. As the rest of us get older, we at least know that it’s going to be in good hands and they’ll take over.”
Eldering said that her side’s impressive effort at the back this year has been driven by positive communication and trust in one another, as well as some brilliant performances by the team’s young goalkeeper, and at the other end of the park, a mixture of youth and experience working together well has led to an abundance of goals.
Armidale City Westside’s forfeit victory tonight will see them rise to a maximum 36 points from 12 games, with Norths Red Women, who have 30 points following 10 wins and a loss, needing to prevail to stay in the minor premiership hunt. Those two teams then meet one another in the final round of the campaign in what could be a minor premiership battle.
“We are excited for that game either way,” Eldering said.
“We knew it would be us and them again this year, because it always has been for the past two or three seasons. In 2021, the season got cut short because of COVID and they were on top of the table, so they took it. Then last year, our grand final actually got washed out, but due to the fact that we were top of the table, we took it out.
“This year, it’s looking like it’s going to be the decider. Norths play good football, and they are very competitive, but we are also really good friends with them.”
With this year’s finals format being semi-finals in week one, a preliminary final in week two and the grand final in week three, Armidale City Westside and Norths Red Women will also meet again in the Major Semi-Final a week later in what will be a blockbuster match with a spot in the decider on the line.
Just below those two teams on the ladder are the third-placed South Armidale Stars, who are currently on 24 points following eight wins and three losses. Of those three losses, two were against Armidale City Westside and the other was against Norths. The loss against Norths was a 5-0 result in Round Six back in June, but the Stars have improved a lot this season and they are ready to prove that tonight in the return fixture against the team running second.
The Stars’ coach Chris Farrant is proud of the way his side have been playing this year. They were knocked out in the Minor Semi-final last year and their goals this season were to get back to the finals and to go at least one better by qualifying for the preliminary final, which they are certainly on track to do.
“We’ve played a really good season so far. We’ve only lost the three games and they were against two pretty quality sides who have played with each other for years and years,” Farrant said.
“We’ve played some pretty good football this year. Even in our last game against Westside, they did beat us 4-0 but it was only 1-0 in the second half. The girls never give up.
“The girls we have here played together last year and there are a few new players as well this year.
“They’ve all been really good, and I put it down to positivity in training really, and the commitment shown by the girls. We’ve had good numbers at training most weeks and they are working hard for each other. I think the Matildas have helped, especially over the past few weeks. The girls have been a lot more excited to get to training.”
Farrant said that the Stars were keen to challenge Norths tonight.
“Norths are a real quality side and they’ve got some really key players,” he said.
“They always know where each other are, and that’s what we are trying to get to.
“They have a really good midfield that don’t stop, and they are very clinical up front. Our aim tonight is to try and keep them out wide and away from the box, and to try and keep possession.”