As far as final rounds of a football season go, the 2023 Armidale Women’s Premier League campaign has well and truly set the standard. The minor premiership race went down to the final night this year and the two sides who were in contention for the top spot went head-to-head when Armidale City Westside hosted Norths United Red Women at Harris Park last Friday. It was Norths United who got the job done as they prevailed 2-1 in the Round 15 clash to crush Armidale City Westside’s dominant undefeated streak and climb into first place.
Armidale City Westside entered the final round having won all 12 of their previous games, but Norths only trailed them by three points and boasted a superior for and against difference, which meant that a victory ensured they would jump above their rivals.
The Norths Red Women getting the job done saw the two sides finish the season on 36 points following 12 wins and a loss each, but Norths’ goal difference of 70 was five greater than their rivals’.
Norths United flew out of the gates full of intent early in the season as they won two games by an aggregate of 20-0 either side of a Round Two forfeit victory. They then suffered their only loss of the season in Round Four when they were edged out 3-2 by Armidale City Westside, but since then they are nine from nine.
Norths won four of their 13 matches by forfeit this season and they kept five clean sheets in the other nine games. Only once, during the Round Four loss against Armidale City Westside, did they concede multiple goals in a game. That led to them setting the standard with only six goals conceded in total this season, and they scored a competition-best 76 goals at the other end of the field.
The 2023 campaign has been a memorable one for Norths United as they have produced quality and entertaining football from start to finish. Their coach Ryan Harris said he was thrilled with the way his players have performed all year and added that he was proud of their minor premiership-winning efforts.
“We narrowly missed out on the minor premiership last year, but this year, it feels amazing to say that we’ve got the minor premiership and we’ve got the upper hand,” Harris said.
“After losing to Westside at the start of the year, to come back in the last game knowing that we had to win, the girls showed an amazing amount of fight.
“It has been really good to watch them grow as a team this year.
“They’re a great group. They have so much fun on the field, off the field, wherever they are. They don’t take things too seriously, but when they need to, they switch on and can be as serious and competitive as anyone out there.”
Harris said he thought the season could not have finished in a more exciting fashion than the way it did with the final-round minor premiership battle. His side went behind 1-0 early but rallied to go into half-time with a 2-1 lead. Both sides were brilliant in defence in the second stanza and that was the way the score remained.
“It was a very good game to coach in and just watch as a spectator even,” he said.
“Westside scored first but the girls’ heads stayed up. We got a corner midway through the half and there was a bit of a scramble in the box and Savannah White put it in. Our second goal was a lucky deflection off a defender and it came back to one of our players’ feet and she had a shot from 20 metres out and it went in.
“The girls played very well. It was probably the best game they’ve played all year. We lost arguably our best player and the best player in the league (Emma Cooper) to an injury halfway through the first half, and the girls just stepped up after that and were even more hungry the rest of the way through the game.”
Harris is hopeful that Cooper will overcome that knee injury, but it looks as though she could be out this Friday night when Norths host Armidale City Westside again in the major semi-final at Doody Park.
The winner of that match will progress to the September 15 grand final and the loser will get a second chance on September 8 in the preliminary final.
This Friday’s minor semi-final will see South Armidale Stars challenge East Armidale United FC at the New England Mutual Armidale Sportsground. South Armidale placed third on the ladder on 24 points following eight wins and four losses in their 12 matches and are a dark horse heading into the finals. They pushed Norths all the way to the final whistle during a 2-1 loss in their final game of the regular season in Round 14, and Harris said that the South Armidale side could give the loser of the major semi-final a real headache in the preliminary final.
“Souths played amazingly in that game against us. It was the best that I’ve seen them play in the two years that I’ve been around the comp,” he said.
“It’s good to see another side come up and be a challenge for Westside and us.
“Honestly, I think that if South Armidale do win their semi-final, they will put in a real challenge and may even beat out either Westside or us the week after.
“It’s going to be a good spectacle to watch next weekend, whoever plays against them.”