Melbourne City 3-1 Adelaide United
By Ben Gilby (18/12/21).
Above: Melbourne City’s Rhianna Pollicina faces off against Adelaide United’s Emily Hodgson. Photo: @MelbourneCity
Melbourne City produced a dominant hour of football to condemn Adelaide United to their second defeat in three weeks at AAMI Park in a physical encounter. However, head coach Rado Vidosic may well be frustrated by his side’s inability to play for ninety minutes again.
Melbourne City welcomed back Chelsea Blissett on the bench which marked her first matchday involvement after missing the whole of last season with an ACL injury. For Adelaide United, Isobel Hodgson was out with a hamstring injury which brought Shadeene Evans back into the starting line-up. Leah Varley, from the small town of Finley, NSW which can also boast four top AFL players as well as rock band Spiderbait among the products of its 2,500 population, was on the bench for the South Australians.
The match burst into life instantly for City as Holly McNamara put a dangerous cross into the box towards Hannah Wilkinson, but teenager United defender Ella Tonkin managed to get her head on the ball which was enough to just about divert it away from the Kiwi international for a corner. The resulting set-piece was played short to Rebekah Stott whose ball back into the mix took a deflection off of Reds defender Emma Stanbury and went narrowly over the bar.
In his pre-game press conference, City head coach Rado Vidosic emphasized how he wanted to get his team back to the way they were playing two seasons ago when they were able to reduce the opposition’s time in possession to an average of nine seconds each time.
His players had clearly listened as they were maintaining a high press and exceptionally hungry to win the ball back as soon as the South Australians gained it. Although it is fair to say that City weren’t alone in their aggressive approach with Evans dropping deep and buzzing around the midfield in the opening exchanges to dispossess City.
After 15 minutes of harum-scarum end-to-end action which saw City have the better opportunities, the game settled slightly. The hosts continued to create though and a superb ball in from the right by Rhianna Pollicina found the head of Wilkinson who put the ball wide of the far post.
With 25 minutes on the clock, City were rightly aggrieved at having a clear free-kick in a central position just outside the box denied them. United’s Matilda McNamara, the final defender, looked to have a hold on Holly McNamara’s shirt and clip her heels, yet play was waved on.
Stanbury then copped a nasty blow to her side in a challenge with Tyla-Jay Vlajnic which prompted a long delay before she was passed fit to continue.
With the half entering its final 15 minutes, City were denied by referee Rachael Mitchenson once more as Emily Hodgson handled in the box but no penalty was forthcoming.
Adelaide then provided a reminder of the danger of not turning possession into goals when Fiona Worts was played in by Evans and held off Emma Checker with her effort having to be pushed out for a corner by Melissa Barbieri.
The home side were well on top and finally made that tell with 38 minutes on the clock. A long cross-field ball from the right was initially repelled by United, before Pollicina won possession back and found Vlajnic outside her who offloaded to Wilkinson before the ball was then moved on to Leah Davidson. The midfielder returned the ball to Pollicina just outside the 18-yard box to the left. City’s former Newcastle Jets striker took a touch, turned Hodgson, and thumped home a glorious long-range effort into the top right-hand corner.
Just two minutes later, City doubled their lead. Pollicina’s corner from the left was met by a thumping header from Wilkinson who beat Tonkin comfortably in the air to score.
The Sky Blues were on fire with Pollicina having a field day. Just before the break she drove through the centre, played a delightful ball inside to Holly McNamara who forced a superb save at the near post from Annalee Grove.
After a frustrating spell where they could not turn possession into a scoreboard lead, the half-time whistle brought about a half-time score which reflected the balance of power.
Melbourne City came out firing at the start of the second half with a series of clever positional runs and inside balls. With only three minutes on the period played, and a City cross in from the left led to Matilda McNamara swinging her foot out and hitting the ball against her own bar.
A disappointing afternoon for Adelaide United looked to worsen when captain Emily Condon left the pitch just before the hour mark limping to be replaced by Reona Amiya. Despite the loss of Condon, the visitors had now drawn the sting from City and began to offer more in an attacking sense as Paige Hayward got a shot away which bounced in front of Barbieri and into her arms.
The home goalkeeper was called into action again three minutes later when Worts hit a shot on the turn outside of the box from the right which swerved in the air and bounced in front of Barbieri who shovelled it away for a corner which Stott then headed over for a repeat flag-kick.
This time, Worts’ ball in was met with a powerful header from Evans at the back post which was pushed out by Barbieri into the path of Dawber who could not miss. Worts was a major influence on Adelaide’s second-half revival. The striker, who was a major part of Fulham United’s revival in the latter part of the SA NPL season was bringing Dawber into the game more and also responsible for the increasing impact of Evans.
Shortly afterward, roared on by the Melbourne Victory fans in the stadium for the following A-League Men’s derby, Evans ran down the right and found Dawber who got a shot away which the Sky Blues custodian saved.
With 20 minutes to go, Chelsea Blissett made her return to top-level women’s football after over a year’s absence as she replaced Vlajnic.
For the third time during the game, referee Rachael Mitchenson sparked the ire of Melbourne City as Stanbury had a hand of Wilkinson’s shirt. Having been booked earlier in the game, the Adelaide defender was let off by the official when most expected a second yellow followed by a red to be shown.
Less than a minute later, Mitchensen was being cursed once more, but this time by Adelaide. Dawber found Worts on the left of the box and there was what looked like an arm on the back of the striker by Checker which caused Worts to go to ground, but again the official ignored the appeals.
Despite having the loud vocal support of the ever-increasing crowd of Melbourne Victory fans, Adelaide couldn’t quite find an equalizer despite having the best of the last half-hour and in the final minute of stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes, City made them pay.
Leticia McKenna, on as a sub went agonizingly close, and then almost instantly afterward, the Western Australian played a ball in from the right which bounced into the path of Wilkinson who ran across Matilda McNamara and slid home the clinching goal. It was another three points for City, but again they fell away after the hour mark – something that on another day would have cost them the win.
Speaking about her influential first half, City star Rhianna Pollicina said: “Hannah (Wilkinson) has got some height on her and it was a good switch up from earlier short corners. Luckily for her, she got her first goal. In terms of my own goal, when I hit it, I knew I hit it sweet, but I didn’t know it was going in to start with!”
Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (4-4-2): Barbieri, Torpey, Tumeth, Checker, Heatley, H.McNamara, Davidson, Vlajnic, Wilkinson, Pollicina. Substitutes: Majstrovic (GK), Malone, Blissett, McKenna, Chinnama.
Scorers: Pollicina 38′. Wilkinson 40′, 90+4′.
ADELAIDE UNITED (4-3-3): Grove, E.Hodgson, M.McNamara, Tonkin, Hayward, Stanbury, Condon, Sasaki, Dawber, Worts, Evans. Substitutes: Templeman (GK), Omiya, Beaumont, Varley, Murray.
Scorer: Dawber 65′.
Referee: Rachael Mitchenson.
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