Stingrays captain leads from the front

Captain Michelle Carney sparked a second-half scoring blitz to lead the Illawarra Stingrays to an emphatic 4-1 defeat of Sydney University in Sunday’s qualifying semi-final.

The teams were level 0-0 when Carney broke the deadlock five minutes after half-time.

Sydney replied soon after with a lucky equaliser from Jenna Kingsley but the Stingrays immediately launched another attack that ended with Caitlin Cooper being chopped down in the penalty box.

Midfielder Ann Mayo stepped up and calmly banged in the spot-kick for a 2-1 lead.

Mayo was in the right place at the right time minutes later to score her second, while the irrepressible Carney completed the scoring with a 90th-minute goal.

‘‘Our first-half performance was equally as good as the second. We just couldn’t hit the back of the net in the first half,’’ Illawarra coach Steve Marsh said.

‘‘We created three absolute clear goal-scoring opportunities, but whether it was nerves or not we fluffed the finishes.

‘‘The first-half performance set us up. We put them under a lot of pressure very early in the game and that put them on the back foot. From there the girls basically dominated the game.

‘‘It was a great team performance. That’s the key. If you’ve got 11 players firing all at the same time, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.’’

Marsh made special mention of the inspirational Carney.

‘‘Michelle Carney’s been outstanding for several weeks but hasn’t really been able to find the back of the net, but she clinically took the first chance she got in the second half,’’ Marsh said.

‘‘She was absolutely superb. It’s hard to understand why she’s still not playing international football when she puts in performances like that.

‘‘She’s the complete club and team player for me, a captain without fear or favour.’’

Illawarra missed out on a fourth straight minor premiership but their hunger for a fourth consecutive grand final triumph hasn’t waned.

The Stingrays advanced to Sunday’s major semi-final against Macarthur and are optimistic.

‘‘We beat them comprehensively in the first round and they turned it around and beat us comprehensively in the second round,’’ Marsh said.

‘‘We can both play an exciting brand of football and both play an open game. I expect that to be exactly the same on Sunday.

‘‘Both teams still get another bite of the cherry, but for me, we’re not interested in coming second.’’

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