Winning seemed beyond reach

Southern United midfielder Chelsea Whittaker excitedly awaits a shot at a league at Logan Park...
Southern United midfielder Chelsea Whittaker excitedly awaits a shot at a league at Logan Park Turf. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
There was a time when today’s scenario seemed improbable to Chelsea Whittaker.

She had always been proud to play for Football South — now Southern United — as a teenager.

She had always aspired to win.

Those wins had been a rarity, though.

The team won just one of its 49 games between 2009 and 2016.

Those days are now a distant memory.

Nonetheless, they remain a marker of how far this team has come since Whittaker first started, as a 14-year-old.

There had been a few missed seasons in the middle, notably when she spent four years at McKendree University in Illinois.

But she always returned to play for Dunedin Technical.

She has also been a regular for Southern since finishing at college.

Over those more recent years, it has become a competitive outfit.

Today that reaches a new level.

Southern can secure the South Central Series league title at Logan Park Turf.

A point against Canterbury United, the team that has won five of the past six national league titles, will be enough.

"Football South, at that point, was always the team that was the easy win," the 25-year-old midfielder said of her early years.

"We didn’t win any games at all. So, to be in the position that we are, where we go out not expecting to win, but knowing we can win, is incredible.

"I think that’s credit to the work that’s been put in by Football South and South United and the development.

"[Head coach] Graeme [Smaill]’s a huge part of that.

"He’s coached me since I was 11.

"The effort he’s put into women’s football in Dunedin, no-one can match that, probably almost in the country.

"It’s pretty cool that we’re at the point now that this weekend, we can win the league."

Whittaker, an employment case manager for the Ministry of Social Development, was excited and she said the team was "pumped".

It has won four its five games this season, including a 2-1 victory over Canterbury on opening day in Christchurch.

On that occasion it had withstood plenty of pressure early, before a goal against the run of play caused a momentum swing.

It was a win that gave Southern confidence and Whittaker said that would be key going into the match.

"We need to be confident in what we can control, when we get out there.

"Our results this season show we have a reason to be confident," Whittaker said.

"I know the Cantabrians will be pretty confident going out there, they always are. So, we’ve got to match that, if not exceed it."

Whittaker has been among the team’s most potent attacking threats this year.

She has found herself out wider, giving her more freedom to go on her mazy runs up the left wing.

It was something she had enjoyed, although she admitted it took her a few weeks to get used to it, having not played there in several years.

Those will be key against a Canterbury team with plenty of threats of its own.

Annalie Longo is prime among those, while there is also a prominent former Southern trio in Mikaela Hunt, Lara Wall and Kate Guildford.

Kick off is at 1pm.


South Central Series

Southern Utd v Canterbury Utd
Logan Park Turf
Today, 1pm

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