Jets fall as Sky Blues claim final berth
THEY did it the hard way, but Sydney FC coach Ante Juric says that's precisely what his team has done all season.
The Sky Blues needed extra time and a clinical Lisa De Vanna strike to book their place in next weekend's W-League grand final, beating the Newcastle Jets 3-2 at Leichhardt Oval.
It could have been far simpler had they held onto their 2-0 lead, but Juric says his team's tough start to the season, when they lost their opening three games, helped his players find their fighting spirit.
"We've done it the hard way the whole way through," Juric said. "Losing three games has actually helped us because it builds your strength - you have to fight back. Those three games helped us win this.
"I wish it was easier because at 2-0 we were sort of cruising and I wasn't happy we copped two silly goals, but that's life and we got through."
Sydney will face either Brisbane Roar or Melbourne City as they continue their quest to win the title for the first time in five years, but they are likely to be without star striker Caitlin Foord after she went down with an ankle injury late in the first half.
With Matildas coach Alen Stajcic watching on with concern from the stands, Foord hobbled off the field to receive treatment. Though she managed to complete the first half, she didn't return for the second and Juric says "it doesn't look good."
First half goals to Foord and Kylie Ledbrook appeared decisive, but the Jets fought back and, despite being a player down, second half goals to Arin Gilliland and Tara Andrews took the game to extra time.
The home side had been cruising to a win in regulation time when late drama struck.
With just four minutes remaining, Sydney failed to clear their area and Andrews pounced to level the scores. It was a complete shambles for Sydney and it handed the Jets the momentum going into extra time, but that didn't last long.
A superb counter attack that began with goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe's distribution to Emily Sonnett, who then played in De Vanna, resulted in the matchwinning goal.
The Jets were forced to chase the game from the ninth minute when Foord gave Sydney the lead after being played in by De Vanna. Foord still had plenty to do, but she dropped her shoulder and fired a low shot into the net.
Though there were physical battles in the midfield, with the Jets determined to make a fight of it, Sydney were too good in the first half.
It's an achievement in itself for the Jets to have reached the semi-final after last making an appearance in the finals in season one of the W-League. The Sky Blues, on the other hand, have reached the finals in every season.
Ledbrook doubled Sydney's lead in the 34th minute with a floating shot from the edge of the box that sailed into the net and the Jets were really up against it before the break when Hannah Brewer received her marching orders for bringing down De Vanna from behind. The veteran striker was through on goal and Brewer, somewhat harshly, was adjudged to have denied her a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Down to 10 and a mountain to climb, the Jets managed to breathe some life into the game when Gilliland got one back for her team with a header just after the break, then Andrews grabbed the equaliser. But they just didn't have the legs in extra time.