By Peter Stephenson
On Sunday morning, a blustery wind and a heavy pitch saw Women’s State 3 East’s most significant match of the season.
Banyule City, still to drop a point, are long odds-on for the title. Below them, Clifton Hill were second, and Barkers were third, three points behind them. Barkers needed to win to have a realistic chance of overhauling their opponents.
Forward Lisa Walsh began the game playing deeper than usual, with Barkers relying on the pacy enthusiasm of Charlotte McCullough and the experience and guile of Amy D’Ortenzio up-front. Barkers had almost all of the territory early on, playing with the wind behind them. Their best chance of the game was to be their first.
On six minutes, Walsh delivered a corner from the left to the near post. The ball ricocheted around before heading for Peta Richardson, who was almost on the Hillmen’s goal-line. However, it came at her too quickly, and the ball deflected off her to safety.
Three minutes later, Hillmen’s best player, Zoe Markopoulos, broke from midfield. However, Walsh is so fast that she caught her and shut her down superbly. Three minutes later, Hillmen chipped the ball out to the right wing to Gabriella Panagopoulos. She hit a low ball into the near post, but Barkers keeper Ashleigh Fraraccio gathered comfortably. Barkers responded on 17 minutes with a long shot from Richardson which the Hillmen’s keeper initially fumbled, and collected at the second attempt.
Clifton Hill were now coming into the game more, and on the half-hour, a quick break led to a ball out to the right and a shot which went wide. Hillmen kept up the pressure with a goalbound shot, but Anjali Lobo was well-placed to block.
Ten minutes before the break, Barkers won a free-kick on the left. Jordyn Clausen floated the ball into the box and McCullough managed a slight touch to send the ball wide.
At the end of the half, Hillmen tested Barkers twice. First they raided down the left wing, the ball was laid back and the shot was saved. Then another ball in from the left led to a shot being blocked. Half-time 0-0. Barkers began well but Clifton Hill put Barkers under pressure as the half continued.
As the second half began, Clifton Hill, with the wind at their backs, tried their luck from distance a couple of times. The first once saw Fraraccio parry then gather, and the second went wide. Barkers came back through Isabella Vorpasso, who tried to release D’Ortenzio, but as usual she was closely marked and could not break free. Then Clifton Hill broke down the left, but Barkers were saved by a great tackle from Lobo.
The most crucial action of the game came on the hour mark. Clifton Hill attacked and found their striker in on goal with only the keeper to beat. As she shot, the ball seemed destined for the far corner of the net, but Fraraccio dived and blocked the shot, then saved the follow-up as well, injuring herself in the process.
Barkers’ best chance of the half came six minutes later, when Coad found D’Ortenzio near the right byline. She shot from a tight angle, forcing the keeper to save at her near post.
The last 10 minutes saw Clifton Hill put Barkers under siege and winning a number of corners. Two minutes from time, a long, high shot from Clifton Hill had Barkers’ hearts in their mouths, but Fraraccio was not going to be beaten today. She beat the ball away before gathering, and the sides had shared the points. Full-time: Clifton Hill 0-0 Mooroolbark.
This was a gritty display from Barkers, in difficult conditions, against a strong opponent. It should be noted that, Banyule aside, Clifton Hill have won every other game, but against Barkers they have a loss and a draw. Unfortunately for Barkers, though, this result almost certainly means Clifton Hill will get second. With three games left, Barkers are three points adrift and have a tougher run home.
On Saturday night, the Barkers’ men’s side, in second place, travelled to ninth-placed Heatherton United. However, the reserves game was forfeited by Heatherton due to their having insufficient players. Then the senior game was called off by the referee due to an unplayable pitch. The senior game will be rescheduled to next week’s catch-up round, with the venue yet to be decided.