Pollicina the difference as City see off Perth

Melbourne City 1-0 Perth Glory

by Ben Gilby (27/12/22)

Above: Melbourne City’s Rhianna Pollicina celebrates her penalty success which sealed the three points for the Sky Blues today. Photo: Melbourne City.

Melbourne City went three points clear at the top of the A-League Women after a deserved victory over a hard working Perth Glory side.

City boss Dario Vidosic’s half-time personnel and tactical changes were the difference as substitute Rhianna Pollicina’s penalty sealed the win.

As the Sky Blues’ chief predicted in his Boxing Day media conference (https://impetusfootball.org/2022/12/26/melbourne-city-v-perth-glory-preview/), star striker Hannah Wilkinson was named in the home team’s squad for the first time this season after overcoming a quad injury. However, this does not mean the end for the Chilean magician Cote Rojas who has lit up the opening six weeks of the A-League Women, as she will be back in February when Emina Ekic returns to the United States.

In a further reshuffle, mindful of his team’s previous outing just four days ago, Vidosic brought Daniela Galic, Emina Ekic and Melissa Barbieri into the starting line-up. Pollicina moved to the bench, where former Canberra United star Karly Røstbakken returned to the squad after injury.

There were also changes in the Perth Glory line-up with Bella Wallhead returning to the starting 11 in place of Sadie Lawrence who dropped to the bench and Sarah Cain returned after suspension. Alana Jancevski and Gabriella Coleman who, up until now have rotated between each other in the starting line-up, were both substitues on a very attacking bench which also included Demi Koulizakis. In-form attacker Rylee Baisden remained in Western Australia after suffering a minor injury.

Above: Hannah Wilkinson warming up pre-game. Her return was a late Christmas present for City fans. Photo: Melbourne City.

Melbourne City set out to maximise possession with the visitors deploying Kim Carroll on Wilkinson along with an enjoyable battle between Ella Mastrantonio and Galic. However, the Football Fern only needed seven minutes to get her first shot in as Ekic beat Tash Rigby along the left to pull across a low ball that Wilkinson hit wide.

With 13 minutes gone, Western Australian product Leticia McKenna took the bull by the horns and skipped across the pitch passing purple shirts with ease until the former Glory player got a shot away that forced Sarah Langman to palm away at the right hand post. A number of the Perth squad know only too well from playing alongside the 20-year-old what she can do with time and space to run – so this was not an episode they would be in a hurry to allow again.

Despite the 75% of possession that the home side gathered in the opening 20 minutes, the Glory defence remained unbreached and the longer the half went on, the more successful their defensive press was with City forced to start playing from further back. Their structure and organisation at the back was better than at anytime this season to date. A sign of further positivity for Alex Epakis’ team was a first shot on target with the pace of Cyera Hintzen allowing her to get away.

Hintzen had another real opportunity with five minutes to the half remaining. Supreme skill from Susan Phonsongkham to control a pass and flick it past her marker allowed her to deliver an inch perfect ball through into the striker’s path. As the American looked to round Barbieri, in came Naomi Chinnama to make a timely tackle.

Above: The first half battle between Melbourne City’s Daniela Galic (left) and Ella Mastrantonio was entertaining to watch. Photo: Keep Up.

Perth’s tactical nous was developing throughout the half. They were looking to frustrate the City movement and passing game initially before bringing on second half replacements on in a bid to pull something from the game. The challenge for the Glory coaching team was when to make that call and ring the changes.

However, the initial changes came from the home side with Pollicina coming in for Bryleeh Henry and Julia Grosso replacing Chelsea Blissett. The momentum came with them as Galic played in Pollicina who offloaded behind her for McKenna to put a shot wide. The early pressure continued and only a miraculous clearance off the line from Mastrantonio saved the visitors as Pollicina delivered a low ball across for Galic who combined with Kaitlyn Torpey.

Torpey came close again shortly afterwards as she lifted a shot from the right hand edge of the box. Langman misjudged it badly and could only punch the ball against her own post with danger narrowly averted.

City’s forward momentum continued as Pollicina burst into the box and went down under pressure from Kim Carroll. Whilst contact looked to be minimal, referee Rebecca Mackie pointed to the spot and Ekic placed the ball confidently into the left hand corner.

Above: Two of Australian women’s football’s brightest young stars Perth Glory’s Hana Lowry (left) and Daniela Galic in action today. Photo: Keep Up.

Within five minutes Ekic appeared to hyper-extend her ankle in reaching for the ball before Cain and was forced to depart the action.

With eight minutes to go, Jancevski came on to join Coleman in attack along with Hintzen. Her flick header found Koulizakis within seconds, but the resulting shot was way over the bar. Shortly afterwards Sakalis scooped a glorious pass through to Hintzen whose shot was too high, as the visitors’ final opportunity to take something from the game went.

In the end, it was Melbourne City’s substitutions that proved to be the difference. Pollicina was influential within moments of arriving, and with 12 minutes remaining, Røstbakken’s welcome return came after an injury-ridden period. This, combined with a more direct approach to their attacks nullified the Perth high press that worked effectively in the second quarter of the match.

For the Glory, Sofia Sakalis showed her ability in tricks and flicks, but City’s personnel and tactical changes at the break was the game changer. Perth’s game at home to unbeaten Western United on New Year’s Day is now hugely important in their bid for Finals football. Alex Epakis’ side are now seven points adrift of the top four having played a game more than three of the teams currently in those positions.

Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (4-3-3): Barbieri, Torpey, Chinnama, Bowen, Blissett, Galic, Davidson, McKenna, Henry, Wilkinson, Ekic. Substitutes: Grosso, James (GK), Karic, Pollicina, Røstbakken.

Scorers: Ekic (pen) 60′.

PERTH GLORY (4-2-3-1): Langman, Wallhead, Carroll, Anton, Rigby, Cain, Mastrantonio, Sakalis, Lowry, Phonsongkham, Hintzen. Substitutes: Aquino (GK), Coleman, Jancevski, Koulizakis, Lawrence.

Referee: Rebecca Mackie.

Attendance: 4,341.

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