The Ballarat Eureka Strikers streak came to an abrupt end in the last 9 minutes against South Melbourne on Sunday. It had been 588 days since the side had last been defeated in the league.
The late withdrawal of Kate Lyons (illness) had led to a last minute call up for development squad goalkeeper Sam Dunstan. The 15-year-old pulled off some terrific saves, and showed excellent decision making despite her diminutive stature of a little over 5ft.
The game got off to a perfect start for the Eureka Strikers when right back, Lily McLean, shot from 20 yards after a failed attempt from South Melbourne to clear a corner. The South goalkeeper was unable to deal effectively with the shot and parried the ball into her own net.
From there the Eureka Strikers sought to double their advantage; throughout the first half they dominated possession in midfield and were able to produce far more opportunities than their opponents but they failed to capitalise on their chances. South Melbourne’s greater aggression at the ball and level of physicality meant that they remained a threat and unbalanced the Eureka Strikers to an extent.
The Eureka Strikers started the second half brightly; but an injury to McLean in the 51st minute meant that they lost the quickest of their defenders for the rest of the match. This was to be crucial as South Melbourne were able to start creating more one-on-one chances which eventually led to South’s striker, Sara Alberici, scoring in the 68th and 70th minute. Both goals were replicas of each other, with Alberici managing to break the defensive line and go clear one-on-one with Dunstan.
Despite going behind the Eureka Strikers looked like they had wrestled back control in the 77th minute when a cross from Lisie Dodds found Tessa Curtain who slotted the ball home. The Eureka Strikers decided to continue pressing for the win; with three up front, but it became their undoing and South were able to score again in the 81st minute, before rounding out the scoring in the 86th minute.
Eureka Strikers coach, Laura Brady, said she was happy with the first 70 minutes of the game but disappointed with the lack of discipline in the last 20. ‘We knew going into the game that we could not leave Sammy exposed at the back, and in the last 20 minutes we allowed three clear one-on-ones with the goalkeeper and we paid the cost. I thought Sam’s performance today showed confidence and courage, she played well to her strengths and in the end was let down a little by her team mates.’
However, the game also provided a terrific learning opportunity for the Eureka Strikers as they were clearly out-muscled throughout the game. ‘We are going to have to work on our aggression and intensity, particularly as we start to get tired, if we are going to beat them next time around.’
Next week the Eureka Strikers face another tough encounter, travelling to South Yarra who also played in the Women’s Premier League last season.