Western United 2-1 Melbourne City
By Kieran Yap (11/2/23)
Above: Hannah Keane celebrates her equalising goal. Photo: A-League Women.
The second meeting between Melbourne City and Western United had a lot riding on the result at AAMI Park.
It was a battle between two top-four teams. Although both sides had started the season strongly, their form had faded in recent weeks. Western United had suffered two consecutive losses to unfancied opposition, while City were humbled 3-0 by Sydney FC in the last round.
A popular theory of Western United is that they might struggle in the absence of Jess McDonald and Chloe Logarzo. The two national team stars were vital when Western defeated City in Round Five. This performance should put an end to that discussion.
Without the two big-name recruits, Western United’s approach and game style has not changed all that much. Mark Torcaso’s team set up to press without the ball and counterattack with it.
City preferred Dario Vidosic’s trademark possession football. Early in the game, it meant that there were few clear chances.
The most promising attacker in the game’s early stages was City’s Bryleeh Henry. The pacy striker was more mobile than usual, cutting inside from her favoured right flank position and running directly at defences when she had the opportunity.
City’s goal came from Henry’s movement. A Rhianna Pollicina pass found her in a pocket of space in the penalty box. She would have preferred that her first touch had put her into a shooting position, but a momentary stumble gave the Western United defenders time to cover her.
Henry kept the ball, and more importantly her composure to lift her head and find Letica McKenna through heavy traffic on the edge of the box. The Western Australian shot without hesitation and curled a shot past Hillary Beall into the bottom corner. It was a terrific goal, forged by the class of the two youngsters.
City had the better of the first-half exchanges. Julia Grosso’s volley was skied over the bar in a let-off for Western, but Emma Checker was particularly good in defence. The captain looked impassable early, and neither Hannah Keane nor Danielle Steer could get beyond her.
It would take patience, persistence, and a healthy dose of luck for Western United to equalise. City have a dedication to playing the ball out from the back and keeping it on the ground at all times. A few times in the first half, Sally James’ passing was successful but at times a little risky. When Keane raced onto a pass to the keeper, it only took one under-hit pass to gift the striker with an easy goal.
Keane almost gave United the lead minutes later. Her through ball put Tyla Jay Vlajnic into space on the left. The winger’s shot was well hit across goal and forced a good save from James. The Young Matildas goalkeeper did very well to get up quickly and pressure Keane’s rebound shot into being skied over the bar.
With the scores level, the match opened up. Hannah Wilkinson had two good chances to score, but Beall was equal to one, while the other sailed high after it bounced fortuitously to her off a Western United defender.
Chelsea Blissett was enjoying her best game on the left wing for City. Her pace and trickery was as good as the departed Emina Ekic’s was during her time at the club, but her crosses were not attacked by the City strikers and went to waste.
Daniela Galic was introduced by Vidosic, and Torcaso brought on Khali Johnson in attempts by each manager to break the deadlock. Both players had an impact, with Galic as creative as ever, but it was Johnson who was decisive.
The striker received the ball on the counterattack, and raced down the right flank. Julia Grosso caught up with her and did well to get goal side, but Johnson cut inside and her shot hit the hand of the City defender.
It was an unlucky penalty. Grosso had no time to get out of the way, but the referee had little choice but to reward the spot kick. Sydney Cummings stepped up to slot home the 86th minute spot kick. It was enough to give Western United their second win against City this season.
The win puts Western United five points clear on top of the table, although Sydney FC has two games in hand. City’s loss also leaves them within touching distance of Melbourne Victory. The two are set to play each other in a month’s time.
Teams: WESTERN UNITED (4-2-3-1): Beall, Medwin, Cerne, Cummings, Beard, Robers, Sawicki, Steer, A. Taranto, Vlajnic, Keane. Substitutes: Dall’Oste, Iermano, Johnson, M Taranto, Sardo.
Scorers: Keane 48’, Cummings 86’ (pen).
MELBOURNE CITY (5-3-2): James, Torpey, Bowen, Checker, Grosso, Blissett, Pollicina, Davidson, McKenna, Henry, Wilkinson.
Scorers: McKenna 40’.
Referee: Anna-Marie Keighley.