In a topsy turvy battle of the best W-League attack against the best W-League defence, the attack has carried the day as Perth Glory recorded a 4-2, extra time win over Melbourne Victory on Sunday afternoon to book their place in next week’s W-League Grand Final.
It’s the second time in two years that fourth-placed has knocked first out of the W-League finals and means that Perth will next week travel to face the winner of the Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC semi-final scheduled for Dolphin Stadium later on Sunday evening.
Kerr would not be denied against the W-League premiers, sparking her side to a 2-1 lead after going into the second half down 1-0 before rallying her group after Victory snatched a late equaliser and removing all doubt with two extra time goals to secure her hattrick.
Making their first finals appearance since 2014, fortune smiled upon Jeff Hopkins side early at AAMI Park, conspiring to gift them the opening goal of the game in just the second minute of the contest.
Running down the touchline to receive a pass knocked into her path from Emily Gielnik, Christine Nairn made her way to the byline on the right flank and looked to square a cross into the area, but her shanked effort instead drifted goalward.
Wrongfooted, Perth Glory goalkeeper Eliza Campbell attempted to dive back across and keep it out but instead could only parry it back into the net.
Kerr came under heavy attention almost immediately from the Victory defence during the contest, repeatedly on the receiving end of heavy challenges from Victory central defender Samantha Johnson.
The two had briefly been teammates at Chicago Red Stars in the NSWL before Johnson was traded to Utah midway through the season, but there was no hint of lingering comradery between the two as Johnson repeatedly looked to body Kerr every time she got on possession.
The W-League golden boot winner looked to turn provider in the 14th minute when she sliced a ball through Victory’s defensive line and into the path of Rachell Hill, only for Victory Casey Dumont to charge down her attempted shot.
Dumont, however, received a wayward blow to the head in that exchange with Hill; forcing her removal for back-up, 21-year-old goalkeeper Beth Mason-Jones at the halftime break after she failed a concussion test at half time.
Almost all of Glory’s early attacks forward seemingly involved Kerr in one way or another in the opening stages, whilst Victory seemed to be more capable of calling on a wider supporting cast in the attack; Ella Mastrantonio having a stinging, long-range effort saved by Campbell in the 24th minute.
Victory’s need to call upon their extended cast to create chances came as a result of the excellent job Perth centre back pairing Kim Carroll and Kathleen Naughton was able to do on Victory talisman and top scorer Tash Dowie.
The Victory spearhead was almost completely nullified throughout the 90 by the Perth defence, frustrated as she was frequently held up and frozen out of potential attacks or isolated with little to no support from her teammates.
Her opposite number in Kerr had a shout for a penalty turned down in the 38th minute after she was bowled over by Mastrantonio – who had temporarily lost control of her hair tie – and Johnson, finally, received a yellow card for her consistent attention to the superstar Matilda in the 41st minute.
Glory had a further call for a penalty – one that they should definitely have been heeded – in the game’s 42nd minute when Shannon May cut inside from the left and let loose with a shot on goal that careened off the arm of Alleway.
Frustrated in the opening 45, Perth then came out strong in the second, swinging momentum well and truly behind them game went on. Victory, in contrast, looked increasingly uninspired in their movement forward and not able to apply the same sort of intimidating pressure they had in the first half.
This drop in defensive intensity eventually cost Hopkins’ side, when in the 72nd minute a ball in from the right from Leticia McKenna was unable to be properly cleared by Alleway, allowing Kerr to readjust herself and poke the ball past Mason-Jones at the near post to restore the game to parity.
Glory’s comeback was then seemingly sealed in the 86th minute when Kerr got on the end of a ball played through the Victory lines by Naughten and looked to dig a cross out into the area. As she had done so all game, Johnson was on the spot applying pressure to Kerr but could only watch as the ball deflected off her body, loop into the area on fall onto the head of Hill to head in and make it 2-1.
The encounter, though, had yet more twists and turns within it.
Victory summoned a desperate late attack in the 94th minute when Nairn, Victory’s season flashing before her eyes, swung a left-footed free-kick into the Glory area.
Leaping in an attempt to clear, Kerr was only able to head the ball further into the penalty where Alleway was waiting to head the ball onward towards goal. Though her effort didn’t find the net, it did find second-half substitute Grace Maher, the 19-year-old flicking the ball on and forcing the game into extra time.
Hill had an excellent chance break the deadlock in the 95th minute when she forced Mason-Jones to deflect a shot over the bar, and Kerr then just dragged a low shot wide from the resulting corner.
Just seconds later Kerr would make no such mistake, capitalising on a failure of Alleway and Mason-Jones to properly communicate on a long ball from Hill by sneaking in and excellently dinking a side-footed effort over the Victory keeper and into the net.
She then removed all doubt in the 107th minute; playing a one-two combination with McKenna to ghost into empty space inside the area and comfortably finish.
Moments after her second goal Kerr, threatening again, would draw yet another rash challenge from Johnson – earning the American her second yellow card of the game.
As Johnson marched off, pausing to swipe at the red card displayed by referee Rachel Mitchenson as she did, she symbolised the Victory on that Saturday afternoon.
Though they had scratched and clawed and even won a battle or two along the way – it was Sam Kerr that won the war.