Sky Blues Earn Vital Win In Finals Race

Perth Glory 0-4 Melbourne City

Above: Melbourne City’s Rhianna Pollicina involved in a tangle against Perth Glory today. Photo: Melbourne City.

At Central Coast Stadium, Gosford, NSW.

By Ben Gilby (13/2/22)

Melbourne City claimed a vital win which makes them massive favourites to finish in the top two.

This defeat, and the impact on their goal difference means that Perth Glory may now have to potentially beat both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC to make the top four themselves.

Playing their second game in four days, Perth Glory made three changes. Sofia Sakalis came in for Demi Kouliakis who dropped to the bench, and Leena Khamis came in as a substitute to replace suspended Susan Phonsongkham. Courtney Newbon replaced Morgan Aquino, who had a fine game on Thursday, in goal.

Melbourne City retained the same sixteen-player squad from last week with Tyla-Jay Vlajnic recording her 50th game for the club.

The Glory started comfortably in possession, imposing a patient, passing game on City. The Western Australians were probing and waiting for the right moment to play in the final ball.

This, plus their successful use of a high press kept the Sky Blues under the pump with Rado Vidosic’s side coughing up possession in their own half on too many occasions in the opening 10 minutes.

With two minutes on the clock, Perth created the first opportunity as Cyera Hintzen played in strike partner Sofia Sakalis on the edge of the box. Melissa Barbieri held on to the shot.

City’s uncomfortable start was in evidence again just six minutes later. Deborah-Ann de la Harpe worked her way along the right and pulled a ball across. With Barbieri committed coming towards the ball, her defender Winonah Heatley headed back towards the edge of the box.

Hana Lowry took advantage of the miscommunication to hit a low shot towards the open goal, but Kaitlyn Torpey got in well to deny the teenage Perth star.

City gradually settled, looking to play long balls over the top, and earned back-to-back corners as the game entered the 20-minute mark.

Above: Tyla-Jay Vlajnic in action on her 50th game for Melbourne City. Photo: Melbourne City.

Perth had another opportunity as City needlessly conceded a free-kick on the left-hand side around 20 yards out. de la Harpe curled an effort in towards the far post, but Barbieri gathered comfortably.

Just after the half-hour mark, Rhianna Pollicina went down off the pitch after being shepherded out of play by Kim Carroll. There was no obvious challenge or foul. The City star required treatment on the side of her knee shortly afterward. With the Sky Blues about to lose both Hannah Wilkinson and Rebekah Stott to international duty with New Zealand, the last thing Rado Vidosic needed was a question mark over the availability of another offensive player.

City continued to have the better of the remaining period of the opening half. They were working hard, but struggled to produce a final ball. Torpey drove past Abbey Green along the right to find Wilkinson. The Kiwi chested down and laid off for Holly McNamara who lofted a shot over the bar.

The Sky Blues had better luck deep into injury time. A ball lofted into the box was nodded back by Wilkinson who chested the ball down for Pollicina. The 25-year-old, showing no lasting impact from the knee issue, laid a lovely finish into the net for her fifth goal of the season.

Despite playing their second game in four days, Perth started the second half on the front foot. de la Harpe’s influence was growing, but the importance of finding the final ball was key.

The game was ultimately decided just past the hour mark. Lowry fed a dangerous corner into the mix from the right for Perth which led to a playground-style scramble in and around the six-yard box which City finally dealt with for a goal kick.

Above: Perth Glory’s Hana Lowry (left) in a close tussle for the ball. Photo: Perth Glory.

Barbieri hit the kick long and Green’s back header fell was jumped on gleefully by McNamara to advance to a one-on-one with Perth keeper Courtney Newbon and calmly slot home into the bottom corner.

Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis rang the changes, introducing the competition’s most experienced strike partnership in 37-year-old Lisa De Vanna and 35-year-old Leena Khamis.

Khamis in particular involved herself in a physical battle and worked hard, but around her, the impact of her teammates playing two games in such a short space of time was becoming apparent.

City’s use of the direct approach had the desired impact with the third goal two minutes from the end. Former Glory player Leticia McKenna hit a long ball through which landed into the stride of McNamara on the right. Newbon advanced well out of her area, but the teenage Matilda lifted a shot comfortably over the Perth keeper and into the net.

The scoring is completed in stoppage time, despite strong Perth protestations for offside. A long, low ball through split the Perth defence and found Wilkinson. Once more Newbon was forced to come way out of her goal and once more, City profit, as the Football Fern took a touch away from Newbon to score. The Sky Blues ran out 4-0 winners, which was probably a bit harsh on Perth, but City clearly deserved the win.

Above: Melbourne City celebrate a vital win in the Finals race Photo: Melbourne City.

City goalscorer Rhianna Pollicina was modest about her strike: “I was in the right place at the right time!” She also explained the circumstances behind her knee issue midway through the first half.

“I fell over and felt the back of my knee. I was worried it was an ACL, so I wanted the physio to have a look, but it’s all OK now.”

Perth defender Liz Anton spoke of her disappointment and the impact of playing two games in such a short space of time. “Our first half was good, the late goal then killed us going into half-time.

“We had a short turnaround (from the win over Adelaide United on Thursday), and I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but it really hurt us. I don’t think we had enough energy going forward and then there were a few things at the back towards the end.

“The goals towards the end I think were down to fatigue. I was certainly feeling it really hard in the last 10. But, credit to City, they did well.”

Holly McNamara was delighted to win a game that she found tough. “It was a grind. Credit to Perth because it was a hard game. We didn’t play our best football, but we fought out well for the win.”

With regard to her second goal, she said: “It was a great ball through from ‘Teech (Leticia McKenna) and I saw Courtney Newbon coming out and just lifted it over her. I’ve tried them before and they’ve not worked!”

Above: Perth Glory will now regroup ahead of next week’s game with another Finals chasing team, Melbourne Victory. Photo: A-League Women.

For Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis, pride in the first-half performance was tinged with regret that again, his team came up against a top side just days after playing a previous fixture. “First, credit has to go to where it’s due. Melbourne City were good today and I don’t want to take away from anything they did.

“We came in with a really specific game plan which we could see was working for the first 40-50 minutes. The goal we conceded before half-time meant that we needed to go forward a bit more in the second. That left us a bit open in those transition moments. I think 4-0 was an inflated scoreline, but we weren’t as good as we can be.”

He emphasized the impact of the scheduling for his team’s matches against both the top two sides this season.

“We’re a good team, a competitive team and I really believe that we can compete with anyone. It’s just unfortunate now that those games against Sydney and City that we weren’t able to get a good crack at them because we played them only a couple of days after a previous game.

“If we had been able to play both of those games with a fresh squad and preparation time then I think there may have been a different outcome.”

Ahead of what becomes a must-win game in the Finals race against Melbourne Victory next week, Epakis said: “Everybody deserves a couple of days off now mentally and physically. We should have close to everyone who is able to play available for next week.”

Teams: PERTH GLORY (4-3-3): Newbon, Rigby, Anton, K.Carroll, Green, Leth Jans, Lowry, Cain, de la Harpe, Hintzen, Sakalis. Substitutes: Aquino (GK), Koulizakis, De Vanna, Lawrence, Khamis.

MELBOURNE CITY (3-4-3): Barbieri, Tunmeth, Checker, Heatley, Torpey, Davidson, Stott, Vlajnic, Pollicina, Wilkinson, McNamara. Substitutes: James (GK), van der Meer, Blissett, McKenna, Westland.

Scorer: Pollicina 45+3′, McNamara 61′, 88′. Wilkinson 90+4.

Referee: Lara Lee.

Attendance: 362.

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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