‘It’s reinforcement of why they’re doing it’: Wellington overcome countless obstacles to get maiden victory

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The first year for a new expansion team can always be tricky, however, you would be hard pressed to find a squad who has had more obstacles thrown at them than Wellington Phoenix.

COVID-19, playing away from home, injuries, difficult losses, and regulations have all challenged the Phoenix squad in the last couple of months.

Overcoming these hurdles to record their maiden A-League Women’s victory only made their 3-0 win on Friday night all the sweeter, after comfortably defeating Canberra United.

It was always going to be difficult for the New Zealand club in their first season due to the pandemic and difficulties surrounding border closures.

Similar to the men’s team, the side has been based in Australia since the beginning of the season, having never actually played in their home city.

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Considering the amount of Kiwi players in the squad this has made it even more challenging, being some 4,000 kilometres away from families and friends.

For head coach Gemma Lewis it is moments like Friday night that make the sacrifices feel as though they are worth it, especially for those players from New Zealand.

“They’re doing it tough and they’re struggling. Some of them are on countdown to when they’re going to be able to get home and they’re still trying to put in a performance day in day out,” she said.

“It really means a lot then when they get this reinforcement of why they’re doing it and feeling like they’re making progress.

“This team believe that they can get these results and they believe that they’re good enough. So, I think it was just that build-up of emotion to prove that we could do it and we could get that result.”

It was a tough first few months in the league for the Phoenix, getting just one point from their first 10 matches.

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Many felt that being competitive may have been a bridge too far for the newcomers, however, after tough losses against Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory, where they were leading late in the fixtures, some fans thought that a win may actually be on the cards.

After overcoming numerous hurdles those fans proved to be correct on Friday night, as they were able to comfortably defeat last year’s semi-finalists.

For Lewis it’s hard to describe the feelings she had after finally collecting their first three points, especially after the journey they took to reach this goal.

“I feel like it hasn’t really settled in, adrenaline and everything else at the moment. But I think you can see from the reaction that the girls had at the final whistle that it means a lot,” she said.

“They’ve been building and we’ve had some good performances but we haven’t turned them into results. So we’ve been kind of waiting to try and put that performance together and capitalise and try and get those results. To sum it up, they’ve definitely been working really hard for it.”

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When asked what had changed for the side compared to their near victories against Perth and Brisbane, whilst Lewis did believe that it was just a general overall improvement, there were a few key areas where she thought the game was won.

“I think the difference in this game was we took our chances, which we have not in previous games,” she said.

“Also we were disciplined at the back, we knew that set plays are a massive thing for Canberra. We worked really hard to try and make sure we weren’t going to give those up.”

Speaking further on the efforts of the defence, it was always going to be a challenge for a side who has conceded 2.7 goals a match so far to contain legends like Ash Sykes and Michelle Heyman.

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For Lewis the way that the young defensive line stepped up in a hostile environment was a testament to their growth over the last few months, as well as their ability.

“You could see that they were keeping the girls busy, and the backline definitely had their hands full,” she said.

“For those girls to step up and deal with players like that, it’s really pleasing for us. I think it also shows the growth that they’re having in this league, they’re working hard in that space. We are really stoked for that.”

After having a taste of victory, for Lewis and her squad the ambition is there to make it a habit.

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Their remaining three fixtures are against teams that they have either drawn with or lost to by a solitary goal, so belief is high that more points could be heading Wellington’s way.

“If we look at the next three games we’ve got they were narrow losses for us, ones we probably should have got a result against. The Perth comeback, we’ve got them again. We had the draw against Western Sydney, we’ve got them again. We lost one nil to Adelaide,” Lewis said.

“So narrow, narrow results and teams that we think we want to build on and put more performances together to try and get more results.”

Feature Image Credit: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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