Sydney FC defender Elizabeth Ralston is aware there will be little room for a sluggish start when they host Melbourne City in the W-League grand final on Sunday.
The Sky Blues will be out to cap off an incredible season – for good and, in some cases, bad – with glory on the final day over two-time champions City.
Ante Juric’s season started the season slowly, dropping their first three matches against Brisbane Roar, Newcastle Jets and Canberra United.
But after that, the Sky Blues charged home to go undefeated thereafter, and, funnily, snap that losing run with a 3-2 win over their would-be grand final opponents.
In the process, Sydney lost Amy Harrison to a long-term injury, and in their 3-2 semi-final win over Newcastle Jets, Matilda Caitlin Foord was felled and required surgery.
Surgery went really well, thank you to everyone that has reached out to me with there kind words since my injury Saturday. Im now on the mend ?? feeling very overwhelmed to have all this positive support around me – thank you ❤️
— Caitlin Foord (@CaitlinFoord) February 14, 2018
Foord scored in that game against the Jets; two first half goals had Sydney well on their way to a grand final appearance.
Hannah Brewer’s red card on the stroke of half time meant Sydney’s lead seemed just about untouchable.
But goals from Arin Gilliland and Katie Stengel completed what appeared to be, for all money, an unlikely Newcastle comeback.
Veteran Lisa De Vanna cut short their fairytale though to make sure Sydney were not left red-faced.
“It’s probably the story of our season in a way, we definitely made things difficult for ourselves,” defender Ralston said of the result on Wednesday’s Daily Football Show.
“We started the season slow and it was reflected again in the game on the weekend, we actually started well and then dropped off towards the end.
“At the end of the day we got the result and Newcastle Jets are a great team and they put up a great performance.
“I think it takes a lot of character for a team to come from 2-0 down with 10 men and take it to extra time.
“We’re really just looking forward to the next game and improving on some of the things we could from last week.”
The win saw Sydney clinch a home final after City knocked off the premiers for the second season in a row, in this instance, Brisbane Roar.
City showed they know how to win in the big moments, and Ralston stressed her team had to match the Victorians’ star-studded squad.
“I think that (in) finals football, everyone knows it can go any way,” she added.
“It’s about the team that can put in the best performance on the day, so to be able to do that, we just all need to be playing to the best of our abilities and do our individual jobs.”
For their part, the 2017-18 season was not all smooth-sailing for City, either.
They started the season poorly, losing 4-1 to Sam Kerr-inspired Perth Glory, but went on to reach the top four by as many points ahead of reigning premiers Canberra, and that is despite four defeats.
Goalkeeper Lydia Williams admitted that at different points of the season, dreams of a third straight grand final had begun to escape her teammates.
“Halfway through the season, we didn’t really know if the grand final was in our sights anymore,” she said.
“There was a little bit of panic but all the girls are pretty experienced and we held it together, and here we are in our third one.
“With the girls that we have, (the mentality was) let’s just go out there, we know we can score, we need to stop messing around with it and get the results at the end of the day.
“That’s what we did; we ground out a few results and then all of a sudden we started playing really well in the last couple of games.
“We managed to play well on the weekend and we’re hoping to bring that form into the weekend as well.”
Aided by a new and improved collective bargaining agreement and salary cap, the W-League ultimately enjoyed its best ever season.
Since City’s inception in 2015, they have been viewed as a cut above the competition, in the first season in particular, but have been pegged back somewhat this season and last.
Matilda Williams believes that thanks to the improved efforts of A-League/W-League clubs in the competition.
“I think this season, it was more a testament to all the other teams.
“Everyone banded together in their own facilities and groups and they’ve got quality internationals all around the W-League.
“For us, it was more difficult competition than it was last year.
“But when we took back the bare bones, we realised we just had to break it down, we have a lot of quality on the team so we had to go back to basics.”
City will take their third championship in a row if they can defeat Sydney.