The Northern Lights have earned the right to host the National Women’s League final after a narrow win over Loaded WaiBOP and will take on Canterbury United Pride after both sides earned crucial victories in their last games of the regular season this weekend.
Going into the tantalisingly-poised action on Saturday, leaders Northern had already secured a berth in the final but needed to defeat WaiBOP on the road to make sure of home advantage while the other finalist was set to come from Canterbury’s hosting of reigning champions Auckland in what essentially amounted to a semi-final.
With so much on the line at English Park, it was expected to be a tight affair and so it proved as a strike towards the end of the first half from Gabi Rennie – who had just returned to Pride colours after performing heroics at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – was enough to book Canterbury a sixth straight appearance in the final.
With that game kicking off earlier than Northern’s visit to Hamilton, the Pride players then had to wait to see if they would have to travel for the final and didn’t end up receiving the news they wanted to hear.
At one stage though, it was very much looking like the final could be in Christchurch again with WaiBOP 1-0 up at Gower Park and only about 20 minutes left on the clock. Chloe Henderson had given the hosts – who were searching for just their second win of the campaign – the lead mid-way through the first half when she found the top corner from outside the box.
Indeed, WaiBOP had two great chances to further extend their lead, but Kelli Bown was denied in a one-one-one situation in the first half then Grace Wisnewski hit the cross bar after the break.
Northern's Ava Pritchard was obviously not keen on a trip to the Garden City, hwoever, and equalised with a well-placed shot from the edge of the area before tapping the winner home from close range with seven minutes remaining.
Loaded WaiBOP 1-2 Northern Lights (ht: 1-0)WBP: Chloe Henderson.NOL: Ava Pritchard 2.
WaiBOP squad: 21. Rylee Godbold (1. Georgia Candy), 3. Kate Williams, 5. Chloe Henderson (24. Shae Brady), 6. Jayden Watts, 7. Emma Cawte, 10. Ella Golding (15. Grace Cox), 12. Kelli Brown (4. Olivia Hooper), 13. Tiana Hill, 14. Richlyn Tuhoro (20. Chelsea Elliott), 16. Grace Wisnewski, 19. Ashley Weld.
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