Melbourne City 2-1 Sydney FC
Above: Rhianna Pollicina celebrates her opening goal with team-mates including Holly McNamara who would later suffer a potentially season-ending injury. Photo: Melbourne City
By Kieran Yap (21/2/22)
Sydney FC’s undefeated run has ended and Melbourne City has closed the gap on the defending champions to one point. However, City fans were far from jubilant at the whistle after what looked like a season-ending injury to young star Holly McNamara.
Sydney started the match the slower of the two teams. They were playing after only three days break following a tough 2-2 draw to Victory on the Wednesday night.
City attacked from the whistle, but it was Sydney who crafted the first real chance of the game. Remy Siemsen played in Cortnee Vine who sprinted into a shooting position but hit it straight at Melissa Barbieri from a tight angle.
City’s in-form playmaker Rhianna Pollicina tried her luck from a free-kick that skimmed the top netting. Jada Whyman looked to have it covered but it was a good effort from the City number 10.
Minutes later, City opened the scoring. Kaitlyn Torpey received the ball in space on the right and played a quick pass inside to Rhianna Pollicina.
She was unmarked in the box in the middle of an unusually open Sydney FC defence. There was no hesitation in what she did next. A quick turn and a right-footed shot rifled the ball into the bottom corner. It was her fourth goal in as many matches and the only time this season that Sydney FC has conceded first.
City held onto the momentum. Pollicina played in Holly McNamara who outpaced the defenders easily but Whyman was equal to the close-range effort.
It was not long before City had a second. Tyla-Jay Vlajnic had been excellent in the opening half, and she set up Torpey for a terrific goal.
The fullback, who occasionally drifted into midfield, cut inside and curled a perfect pass from her right foot. The ball dissected the Sydney defence and landed perfectly into the stride of Torpey.
After setting up the first goal, Torpey had one of her own. The first time finish slipped beyond Whyman and into the net.
Sydney’s best chance came when Mackenzie Hawkesby collected the ball at the edge of the area. She had time and lined up her shot. Somehow Barbieri was able to get a strong enough hand to it and palm it over the bar. It was a spectacular effort to stop a well-hit shot.
The second half began with Sydney FC in the ascendancy. Melbourne City’s defence remained compact and organized and easy chances were hard to come by.
Charlize Rule almost pulled one back for the visitors. She connected well with a Mackenzie Hawkesby corner but it crashed off the woodwork. Ibini came close from the follow-up but City scrambled the ball away.
Siemsen and Vine combined once again, this time to play in the Matildas centre forward. However, Barbieri was on hand to stop her first-time shot once again. The City goalkeeper might be the best player in the competition right now.
Leticia McKenna was enjoying a rare start for Melbourne City. She was in the side in place of Rebekkah Stott who was away with New Zealand’s national team and almost scored twice in succession.
Both efforts displayed great composure and footwork in the penalty area. Whyman was tested and saved well from what looked like certain goals.
Hawkesby was once again the best creators of opportunities. She earned a free-kick and took it herself. The pass was perfectly clipped over the defensive line and Charlize Rule was able to time her run precisely. The finish was not as exact and the ball skied over the bar.
As the game reaches the closing stages, Sydney earned a lifeline. Siemsen was fouled in the area and Princess Ibini stepped up to take the penalty. The winger scored her third goal in three games when she took the direct approach, smashing it down the middle low and hard.
A nervy end to the game saw City hold on for the win that takes them within a point of first place. The top two sides had met, and City reversed the loss suffered against the same team a few weeks prior.
However, the win was sadly soured by the injury to Holly McNamara. She has been one of the brightest discoveries of this A-League Women’s season and one of the most exciting young Matildas to debut for the national team in recent years.
McNamara is an exciting, gifted, and inventive forward that fans adore and neutrals admire.
It was a sad end to an otherwise terrific outing by City.
Sydney will have faith that they can rebound quickly. The premiership is still in their hands and they will expect to win it with no major injuries and a first choice starting eleven available.
Their week in Melbourne was far from their best football, but they still look like ending the season as the best team.
Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (4-3-3): Barbieri, Torpey, Tunmeth, Checker, Heatley, Davidson, Vlajnic, Westland, Pollicina, McNamara, McKenna. Substitutes: Blissett, James (GK), Karic, Malone, van der Meer.
Scorers: Pollicina 13′, McNamara 45+1′
SYDNEY FC (4-3-3): Whyman, Green, Tobin, Mclean, Rule, Hawkesby, Ray, Lowe, Ibini, Siemsen, Vine. Substitutes: Hunter, Johnson, Nash, Offer (GK), Stanic-Floody.
Scorer: Ibini (pen) 79′
Referee: Casey Reibelt.