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  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

A closer look at Perth Glory's excellent A-League Women's start

Heading into the 2023/24 A-League Women's season, even the most die-hard Perth Glory supporters would have given their women's side a ceiling of around fourth at best. Most league followers would undoubtedly have assessed Alex Epakis' side as one of mid-table calibre. However, from the campaign's outset, the manager has transformed his side into the season's surprise package thus far. Perth now sit on top of the league, with many speculating whether their consistency and form will be more than just an anomaly to start the new season. So, how is the club currently exceeding expectations, and what lies ahead?

Perth celebrate Susan Phonsongkham's winner against Adelaide United in Round 4. (Dan McAdam/Laughing Bulldog Images)


Perth Glory's 2023/24 campaign started in head-turning fashion, as an imposing Western United side from the season prior arrived at Macedonia Park in Round 1 with a formidable attack spearheaded by American sharpshooter Hannah Keane.


Glory won 2-0. But more impressive was the Western Australian outfit's back four being largely inexperienced against that aforementioned Western attack.


The shocks did not stop here. Away to Canberra in Round 3, Glory took the lead three times to finish 3-2 victors at McKellar Park, a massive result in hindsight, given the club had never won in the territory across the 15 years the competition has been running.


So, the questions about how such performances have been achieved are being asked. But the answers are what we want to explore further. We need to understand three main factors to understand this team's success.


The first is the management and professionalism of Epakis; many out west have noted his persistent belief in his project coming to fruition, which was highlighted by the consistent attacking approach offered in the win in Canberra and on Saturday at home to a highly rated Melbourne Victory, where a point was regained at the very death.

Epakis did something at the end of the 2-2 draw that drew the keen eyes of most onlookers. But it was also an act that encapsulated what is happening more broadly with this team and why its fortunes are rising.

Having applied pressure at both ends of the pitch and with spirits high from a last-minute equaliser, the manager called the entire squad, including his staff, into a considerable huddle, speaking to the team at length in a rather passionate speech.


When Front Page Football asked post-match why such an action was taken, Epakis' answer strongly indicated what is being built at the Glory, seemingly a vastly improved and changing club culture.


"We're on a pretty serious mission, and I know the players are behind that and what we are trying to do," Epakis said.


"The reason why I pulled the squad in was that I wanted to make sure they understood exactly what we achieved in that match. I pointed out having this never-say-die attitude; it's so important upon building a successful season."


As crucial as the winning mentality and defined club culture are, players on the field make the tactical difference, as any winning side needs, which takes us to the second point.


The addition of English marquee striker Millie Farrow has boosted the players in this squad. You would be mistaken for thinking Farrow's job is to score goals when her impact and the true meaning behind why she has been a successful addition thus far comes down to the little things she does off the ball.

Perth's first-half lead in the Victory draw mainly came against the run of play and told a very distinct story of a team that, to an extent, is perhaps presently riding their luck.


However, when delving deeper, Farrow's impact in forcing many fouls in and around the box with her physical nature and vision on the ball or to make clever runs ended up giving the Glory an even sniff of what would be considered the significant chances to score. Farrow's presence was headlined by winning the free kick slotted home by Hana Lowry.


This tactical aspect was acknowledged by Victory manager Jeff Hopkins, particularly regarding the trouble Farrow caused his side.


"She is a real wholehearted player, and she works hard. The way she forced the mistakes and put us under pressure, I think she is one of the players we can say we were disappointed with how we dealt with them," he said post-game.


It is not only Farrow who has an impact to this extent. The effect of Young Matildas international midfielder Hana Lowry, whose role is to dictate the game's flow from the depths of midfield and turn it into attacks, makes Glory a constant threat in possession.

 

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Hana Lowry (left) advancing through the Victory's midfield at the weekend. (Dan McAdam/Laughing Bulldog Images)


With Lowry's unique characteristics in multiple areas making her an ever-increasing leader for the team, many are starting to predict bigger things to come in her career, something Epakis was not afraid to comment further on.


"The way she can lift the team on her shoulders and take us to the next level, yeah, it is quite incredible. That (a move overseas) is inevitable. She is a football fanatic and has a great growth mindset," the Glory manager said.


However, in addition to Lowry's individual growth, by heavily featuring in this side as someone on national team radars throughout her teenage years, she has also become ideally suited to what this Glory side has needed to advance from years in the depths of the league in the past few seasons.


Her improvement and growth have matched Glory's, and her international recognition, for someone so young, has undoubtedly aided the side's inner belief, one Epakis continues to manifest.

Thus, this brings us to the third point of why this side succeeds: the depth and ability to produce. One prominent example is the defensive presence of Georgia Cassidy, who was recently nominated for the A-Leagues' Young Footballer of the Year award. But there are also contributions from other areas, such as through an attacking player like Susan Phonsongkham, who adds goals with many moments of individual brilliance.


It would be plausible to align this current crop of Glory talent to how quality has emerged locally at clubs such as the Central Coast Mariners or Adelaide United in the male persuasion of the game.


While this call may be a big one, it also speaks to the culture of winning at Perth right now and how it appears to cover multiple on-pitch elements well in its tracks.


Thus, all of the above leaves a significant question moving forward. Should it be true that this team has elevated itself internally and has genuinely manifested a vision sought after by Epakis while holding true to ensuring a talent like Lowry can stay the course and provide the consistency those out west have become accustomed to, is this team a championship-level side? Only time will tell us.


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