‘As good as Kerr’: The ‘biggest positive’ from Matildas draw
FORMER Matilda Sarah Walsh has labelled the performance of teen star Mary Fowler the biggest positive to come out of the Aussies' 1-1 friendly draw with England at Craven Cottage.
The 15-year-old striker played 24 minutes, after replacing Lisa De Vanna.
"It was just exciting to see Mary Fowler was absolutely unfazed by the occasion at Craven Cottage against England in a traditional football-mad country," Walsh told foxsports.com.au.
"She absolutely stepped up, she was probably the biggest positive to come out of the day.
"The maturity she shows off the ball, the runs she's making are as good as Sam Kerr.
"She adds something very different, she doesn't have the pace so she just creates that central point of attack for the Matildas and we really needed that in the second half."
The Aussies were perhaps lucky to escape with a point, as coach Alen Stajcic shuffled his lineup in the absence of big names such as Sam Kerr, Lydia Williams, Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond. However, Walsh believes this is the last time Stajcic will be experimenting with his personnel with next year's World Cup on the horizon.
"I'd be very surprised if we saw any more experimenting," Walsh said.
"He's going to play his best team, you think about ranking points are equally as important right now in terms of the draw.
"But the limited amount of time he gets with his Matildas squad he's going to have to start to build up some cohesion with his starting XI and his true squad that he's thinking about taking to France."
However, these two friendlies - which brought in a range of new faces - against France and England, provided an excellent test for the broader squad, as some fringe players got their chance to shine against world class opposition.
"I think bigger picture it was actually a really good opportunity to get some new faces in the team and get some game time and especially play in front of big crowds against high level opposition," according to the 70-time Matilda.
"So I think all in all there's a lot of positives. Obviously the way Australia came back today, they definitely worked on their defensive shape and discipline which really limited England's ability to go forward which was not the case in the first half. "
Despite the positives, Walsh believes there's still plenty of work to be done, especially as the coaching staff balance the fitness and form of their stars amid the return of the W-League and a busy calendar in the lead up to the World Cup.
"I think there's a lot of work in terms of getting the extended squad on the same page with Alen Stajcic's system with and without the ball," she said.
"But I think all in all with the amount of players we had out ... The majority of these players just finished a very very long year.
"If you think about it they went from the W-League into internationals, against Thailand, then they went to Jordan, they had a very long Asian Cup, they went to the US and now some friendlies on the back of that and they run straight back into the W-League. So there's no doubt that played a part, all of those factors, but all in all it's quite positive."
And that balancing act is the greatest priority for the squad as they prepare for France 2019, with the next nine months incredibly important to their preparation.
"I think in the fact that, you've got players that weren't there and they've been able to rest physically," Walsh said of the decision to rest Kerr and co.
"But you can't underestimate the ability to be able to rest players mentally and get away from football and actually take some time off.
"And they've been able to do that with some very key players who can then build into the W-League and some international games leading up to the World Cup.
"It's going to be a crucial nine months, balancing the load, it's almost as important as the performances themselves. Because he's really got to be able to get players in form at the right time, and balancing that out with the limited time he has and he's been able to get some different faces on the same page against amazing opposition."
The Matildas host Chile twice in the space of three days in November as their preparation for the next year's World Cup continues.