Melbourne City 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers
By Kieran Yap (6/2/22)
Above: City celebrations. Photo: Melbourne City.
Melbourne City maintained second position and continued to nip at the heels of Sydney FC with a hard-fought win over Western Sydney Wanderers.
The resurgent former champions welcomed back Holly McNamara to the line-up. After limping off against Thailand in the Asian Cup, there were some worries about a possible injury. She had lost none of the magic since joining The Matildas and was a constant danger throughout the match.
It was Western Sydney who had the first real chance of the game. A back pass was latched onto by Libby Copus-Brown, but Melissa Barbieri was able to smother the shot and calm Melbourne’s nerves.
City almost took the lead through an unlikely source. Captain and defensive rock, Emma Checker hit the post in the opening stages. Her explosive run took her past a couple of Wanderers’ defenders but her shot crashed off the woodwork to deny a spectacular goal.
McNamara and Rhianna Pollicina were involved in everything good for Melbourne City. The young attacker cruised beyond Cailtin Cooper but her pass just missed Pollicina. It was a missed opportunity but a warning of what was to come.
The crafty pair combined in the 28th minute to score the opening goal. Pollicina carried the ball forward and played it wide to McNamara. Her cross was directed toward Hannah Wilkinson who could not direct it to goal, but it fell invitingly to Pollicina who had continued her run.
The finish was composed and well struck. Sarah Langman had no chance of saving it as it flew into the bottom corner.
It was an example of what McNamara brings to the City and why she was selected for the national team. Her playmaking ability from the left flank is excellent, she switches onto her right foot with ease and curls in dangerous crosses or shots. If a defender gets too close she has the skill to skip around them, if they back off, she whips in a ball like the one that created the goal.
As the clock ticked toward 45, the action increased. Pollicina turned provider with a ball into the run of McNamara. She was able to get goal side of Cooper but her shot was off target.
McNamara and Pollicina (we need to think of a collective nickname for them) connected again to set up Kaitlyn Torpey. The wingback buried the shot but was marginally offside in an escape for the Wanderers.
Eventually, the second goal arrived. Holly McNamara received the ball on the left side of the box. After stopping, twisting, and pausing she hit the ball into the only space it could go. It flew past Langman to double the lead. Her patience created the chance, her technique scored the goal.
Before the halftime whistle could blow, Western Sydney pulled one back. Erica Halloway surged into attack and her cross was deflected awkwardly by Emma Checker. It bounced off the woodwork and fell eventually to Byleeh Henry.
The centre forward held off the attention of two defenders and laid it back to Teigan Collister who’s low show beat Barbieri who was blinded by the crowded penalty box. It was a great bottom corner finish to grant the Wanderers a lifeline in the second half.
City continued to press for another goal in the second half. McNamara turned on the flank and her shot was on target but not enough to beat Langman. Pollicina curled a perfect long ball into her path and beyond the defenders but McNamara was put off by the attentions of Teigan Allen and the chance was missed.
City fans and players thought they had a strong claim for a penalty, but the referee did not hesitate to wave play on.
Hannah Wilkinson had the best of City’s second-half chances. Torpey’s pass played her beyond the defensive line but her shot was saved by the in-form Langman.
The Western Sydney goalkeeper was terrific as she denied Pollicina and Wilkinson from scoring as the one-on-one chances kept occurring.
The Wanderers defence has been their defining feature this season. They have not been easy to score against thanks to Langman, but they have also been difficult to break down thanks to their back four.
Clare Hunt has been one of the team’s best players, and in her absence, they looked more vulnerable despite the strong tackling ability of Alex Huynh.
Western Sydney looked rushed in possession in midfield but delayed in the final third. Bryleeh Henry is known for her pace but her ability with her back to goal is underrated. Numerous times she played it back and then ran into space, but the return pass never came.
The Wanderers have the talent to unlock defences on paper, but they need to move it quicker when they get into attacking positions.
When they do get the ball in quickly, they look dangerous even if the chances are a little chaotic. Collister’s goal was an example of an urgent ball forward, getting numbers in the box and scrapping to create a chance.
Melbourne City look ominous in attack and steady in defence. In midfield, Rebekah Stott is linking the two areas with ease and style.
They have the inventive players to create chances with regularity and the composure to finish them. If not for Langman this could have been a thrashing.
Melbourne City celebrated Melissa Barbieri’s 25th year as a top-flight footballer in the way that she deserved. The three points were her priority but her achievement will not be lost on a football community in which she has been long admired.
She is one of the competition’s best players and looks unlikely to hang up the gloves anytime soon.
Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (3-4-3): Barbieri, Heatley, Checker, Tunmeth, Vlajnic, Stott, Davidson, Torpey, Pollicina, Wilkinson, McNamara. Substitutes: Blissett, James (GK), McKenna, Westland, van der Meer.
Scorers: Pollicina 28′, McNamara 45′.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS (4-4-2): Langman, Matos, Cooper, Huynh, Halloway, Gallagher, Steinmetz, Galic, Collister, Copus-Brown, Henry. Substitutes: Allen, Chauvet, Galea, Habuda, Khamis (GK).
Scorer: Collister 47′.
Referee: Rachael Mitchenson.