WATCH: CommBank Matildas close off 2022 with 2-0 win against Thailand

There were good times for the 11,271-strong crowd in Gosford as goals to Sam Kerr and Hayley Raso helped the CommBank Matildas to a 2-0 victory over Thailand.

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The headlines from their final game of 2022 were the return of Elise Kellond-Knight, the veteran subbing onto the field for the first time in over 500 days in the 84th minute, and a late game senior international debut for Matilda McNamara.

Head coach Tony Gustavsson named an unchanged lineup from the team that so impressively defeated Sweden in Melbourne on Saturday. The team kept the attacking shape that they had deployed in the second half of that game, with Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord forming a formidable strike partnership.

The Australians put the pressure on Thailand from the opening minutes. Hayley Raso had the ball in the back of the net in the 5th minute after the Thai keeper pushed away a Sam Kerr shot, but it was ruled out for a foul. It was the beginning of a busy night for Warapom Boonsing – without her, the scoreline could have tilted much more in the CommBank Matildas’ favour.

Another factor that could have shifted the scoreboard even more was the posts. The women in green and gold managed to hit the frame of the goal three times over the course of the 90 minutes. The first of these opportunities came in the seventh minute, with Kerr hitting the crossbar from close range after being played through on goal by Caitlin Foord.

There were many more such chances throughout the first half. Thailand were regularly on the back foot but the CommBank Matildas saw many missed opportunities in front of goal, either not creating enough clear cut chances or not converting the ones that they had.

The team had some joy out wide particularly through Cortnee Vine, but were often unable to connect their crosses with a teammate. Courtney Nevin and Charlotte Grant also had some joy as overlapping wing backs but again, teammates were unable to connect.

While the Australians were well in control of the game, as it remained 0-0, there was always a chance that Thailand could get back into it. The biggest scare in the first half came in the 31st minute,  Orapin Waenngoan firing just wide with her right foot, leaving Australian goalkeeper Teagan Micah scrambling.

It was through a set piece that the breakthrough eventually came. Katrina Gorry delivered an inswinging corner and it was Sam Kerr who rose highest to meet it, her header nestling in the back of the net in the 40th minute.

It was a deserved lead at half time for the Australians but not one that they could rest on. That was reflected in the substitutions, with Mary Fowler, Emily van Egmond and Larissa Crummer being introduced during the break.

The fresh legs off the bench added an extra dimension to the CommBank Matildas and that energy paid dividends almost immediately. In the 47th minute, Hayley Raso doubled the Australians lead after a lovely 1-2 with Emily van Egmond played her through on goal with only the goalkeeper to meet. She kept her composure and placed the ball low and hard to score a deserved goal.

After that though, for the most part, the second half followed the same pattern as the first. Emily van Egmond’s introduction as a central attacking midfielder and then a central striker showed off parts of her game that fans don’t often see when she is deployed deeper in midfield, and Mary Fowler continued her deployment on the left wing that we saw in Melbourne, but both were susceptible to the same pitfalls in dismantling the Thai low block as their first half compatriots.

To put into perspective Australia’s dominance and at times wastefulness in front of goal, the final shot count was 28 – 3.

As the second half wore on, Thailand looked more and more threatening. Orapin Waenngoen found herself in behind the defence in the 50th minute, and Teagan Micah was required to make a fantastic save with her legs. Thailand also had a clear header as the game drew to a close in the 87th minute, but it was sent wide.

Had Thailand been able to capitalise on any of their opportunities, the game may have taken a different complexion – but as it was, the result wasn’t in doubt.

The moment that so many CommBank Matildas fans had been waiting for happened in the 83rd minute. 113 cap Matilda Elise Kellond-Knight was entered the field of play in the green and gold for the first time since Olympic qualifiers in 2020 to rousing applause. She slotted back into her favoured defensive midfield position, a valuable addition to Tony Gustavsson’s midfield options.

Soon after, Matilda McNamara fulfilled her nominative destiny by subbing onto the pitch for the very first time in the 88th minute.

The performance is one that can be interpreted in several ways. On the one hand, Tony Gustavsson and his coaching staff will be left rueing the missed opportunities and lack of clinical finishing that was a feature in the previous game against Sweden. However, they will be pleased with the manner in which the team went about the game – real quality shone through at times, albeit often lacking the finishing touch.

The CommBank Matildas will take the confidence of four straight victories to end the year into 2023, as they continue preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil.