Brisbane Roar 1-2 Melbourne City
By Kieran Yap (29/1/22)
Above: Hannah Wilkinson in possession for Melbourne City at Moreton Daily Stadium today. Photo: Brisbane Roar.
Melbourne City returned to winning ways and Brisbane Roar suffered another heartbreaking defeat on Saturday afternoon.
Brisbane began the stronger of the sides. The midfield anchored by Ayesha Norrie and dominated by Katrina Gorry controlled the game and created the first chance of the game. Rie Kitano and Gorry combined to play through Larissa Crummer.
Melissa Barbieri in the City goal was quick to come off her line and block what looked like a certain goal.
More neat interplay nearly resulted in a goal to Gorry but her shot was hit over the bar with Barbieri beaten.
Crummer missed another opportunity when she outpaced the City defence. Her chip cleared the onrushing Barbieri but bounced wide of the post despite the commendable effort of Shea Connors to turn it goalward.
Brisbane was playing with confidence and purpose. Their passes in midfield were quick and almost always forward. Anna Margraf was being used in place of Mariel Hecher upfront and was engaged in an entertaining duel with City defender Winonah Heatley.
They had the momentum but not yet the lead and given their history so far this season, they needed to score before City could compose themselves.
The visitors first shot on goal came from Rebekah Stott. Her long-range shot was tipped onto the bar by Mia Bailey. The Brisbane goalkeeper was making her second start for the season and does not look out of place at the top level.
Bailey was once again called into action to deny Rhianna Pollicina’s effort. Once again she was equal to the shot and the teams went into half-time level. Brisbane had the upper hand on the balance of play and created the most chances against a tough City defence. If not for Barbieri they would likely have been at least one goal up.
Brisbane kept up the pressure in the second half, Shea Connors had two consecutive chances to take the lead. First, she robbed Emma Checker of the ball and raced into the area. Her second touch gave Barbieri the half a second that she needed to race out and collect the ball as the players collided.
It was to the relief of all that were watching that they both escaped injury after Connors’ shin crashed into Barbieri’s head.
The lightning-fast winger bore down on goal again shortly after but her shot flew agonizingly wide. Of the three attackers for the Roar, Connors was looking the most dangerous and the least hesitant in front of goal.
Brisbane’s control of the match wavered when their captain Norrie went down injured. Brisbane has the depth in midfield to cover for her, but she is a key player and was one of the match’s best performers up until that point.
Meaghan McElligott came on for her with Hollie Palmer entering the game moments before. McElligott’s impact was almost instant. As she reached to get on the end of Connors’ cross she was bundled over in the box and earned a penalty.
For the second time this season, Gorry stepped up and scored from the spot in the 71st minute with a shot that never looked like missing. Let’s all hope those penalty-taking skills are not missed by the Matildas in India.
The lead was deserved but did not last long. Rhianna Pollicina leveled the scores eight minutes later with an incredible free-kick. There was nothing Bailey could have done to stop it. The shot was perfectly hit and curled in with pace. It is unlikely to be beaten for the goal of the round and was a reminder that even without Holly McNamara, City still had the weapons to change the game in a second.
Pollicina had been having one of her quieter games of the season so far, but she has the technique and confidence to score beautiful goals against the run of play.
Connors and McElligott both had chances to take back the lead for Roar. Connors skillful turn created the chance out of nothing, but on her left foot, she fired over the bar from close range.
It was a terrific opportunity, forged from a half chance by the American attacker. Connors has been used almost exclusively on the wing this season, but she can play centrally and with her back to goal she controlled and created an opening almost out of nothing.
McElligot’s chance was probably easier, but that is a relative phrase. There is nothing easy about berating Barbieri this season. She had time and space, probably more than she realized but her shot was straight at the in-form City goalkeeper.
The scene was set for a draw and as the game entered added time, Brisbane started to lose composure. They looked suddenly rushed in defence even though there were five minutes to play. When Rhianna Pollicina stood over a free-kick deep into injury time, what happened next seemed inevitable once it did.
Pollicina’s free-kick was whipped in with venom and Hannah Wilkinson met the outswinger with a perfect header. It was textbook, nodded back across goal against Bailey’s momentum, and nestled in the bottom corner. Brisbane had conceded from a winning position yet again, once more in the dying minutes of the match.
Wilkinson had been quiet for most of the match. It was not her game, but it was her moment. The league’s top scorer only needed one opportunity to change the headlines and the fortunes of both teams.
Hollie Palmer almost levelled the scores when she launched a long-range rocket in the final moments. Barbieri was able to make the save again, then once more from Crummer after the resulting corner kick.
Brisbane has the artillery to score from long range, they have had luck with those sorts of efforts this season and it was only the skill of Barbieri that denied them another goal.
The Melbourne keeper was easily the most influential player of the game. She was equal to everything that Brisbane threw at her and prevented at least four certain goals.
Brisbane needs to overcome their déjà vu and reset. The upcoming flurry of matches in quick succession may be beneficial for them as they try to find some momentum.
They are not playing poorly, just missing opportunities. Defensively it is a worry that they continually concede late in games and this match felt particularly harsh.
The team that they lost to is shaping as a trophy contender. Sydney FC looks unassailable at the top of the ladder, but City has the potential to win a Grand Final. There is no shame in losing to them for Brisbane, but there will be frustration.
It does not get any easier for the Roar with an away trip to Sydney FC coming up before hosting top-four hopefuls Adelaide United. With Norrie’s injury, it will be difficult, but Palmer should be ready to step into her role. She was guilty of giving away a costly foul but was otherwise creative and decisive on the ball. Her shot at the end was an example of what she is capable of and her passing was quick and aggressive.
Melbourne City faces Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory within five days of each other. On current form, they will expect to win both of those matches. They have the best center forward in the competition in Wilkinson and in Pollicina, a playmaker who can change a match in two touches.
City are hard to score against and harder to prevent from scoring. They are deservedly high on the ladder and although they were beaten by Sydney FC last week, they responded perfectly this week.
Brisbane was the better team over 90 minutes, City was the winner. It was a relentlessly entertaining match.
Teams: BRISBANE ROAR (4-3-3): Bailey, Tathem, Haffenden, Rankin, Clough, Gorry, Norrie, Kitano, Margraf, Crummer, Connors. Substitutes: Gett, McElligott, Palmer, Rasschaert, Shuttleworth.
Scorer: Gorry (pen) 71′.
MELBOURNE CITY (3-4-2-1): Barbieri, Heatley, Checker, Tunmeth, Blissett, Vlajnic, Davidson, Torpey, Scott, Wilkinson, Pollicina. Substitutes: James (GK), Karic, Malone, Westland, van der Meer.
Scorers: Pollicina 79′, Wilkinson 90+4′.
Referee: Rebecca Mackie.