City survive Vine Time in top four battle

Melbourne City 1-1 Sydney FC

By Kieran Yap 18/3/23

Above: Kaitlyn Topey and Hannah Wilkinson celebrate City’s late equaliser. Photo: Liberty A-League.

Melbourne City snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat against Sydney FC to maintain their hold on third spot.

Sydney FC welcomed back Nat Tobin to the side, with Rachel Lowe continuing to play in attack in place of the injured Madison Haley.

Melbourne City were missing Rhianna Pollicina, but Young Matilda Daniela Galic returned to the line-up. Coach Dario Vidosic tinkered with the forward line following the defeat in the Melbourne Derby, Bryleeh Henry started on the bench, with Holly McNamara, Hannah Wilkinson, and Maria Rojas making up the front three.

Despite the travel and the heat, Sydney FC controlled the majority of the first half. Lowe and Mackenzie Hawekesby were both mobile and busy, but it was the home side who created the first serious chance of the game.

Holly McNamara is a player who is consistently dangerous on the ball, and her run into the box set up Galic for an opportunity to open the scoring. The playmaker stayed composed amid the traffic and hit a shot from close range low to the near bottom corner. It took a spectacular save from Jada Whyman to deny the goal. Her outstretched hand provided one of the highlights of her season.

Cortnee Vine was providing the biggest threat to City’s defence. The Matildas’ attacker was dominant on her side of the pitch. The battle between her and Julia Grosso was one of the definitive ones of the game, and both players were ready to defend or attack when needed.

Not surprisingly, Vine opened the scoring in the 24th minute. City tend to attack with patience and in numbers, but this can leave them vulnerable if they lose possession. A long direct attack released Vine on the right wing and behind Grosso.

When Cortnee Vine is at full pace and has nothing but space between her and the goal there is very little a goalkeeper can do. If you come out, she can go around you, if you stay on your line, she will just keep coming. Sally James did her best to narrow the angle, but once she committed, Vine slotted the ball beyond her to make it 1-0.

The Sydney FC star continued to threaten throughout the game. Whether she was in space or cutting into crowded areas of the defence, Vine was menacing. After cutting inside she set up Sarah Hunter for a good chance, and the midfielder’s shot was well hit but missed the target.

City’s played with three at the back, and although this was partially the reason Vine had space out wide, it meant that it was hard to find space in front of goal. Naomi Chinnama started for the first time since recovering from a hamstring injury and looked impassable for periods of this game. Even a header against her own post fell fortuitously and harmlessly for her side.

The best chance for City in the first 45 fell to Rojas. A dynamic and explosive run from McNamara found the Chilean striker in space, but she finished the move by attempting to pass across goal when an earlier shot might have caused more problems for Whyman.

The second half continued to be the Vine show, and when she was not bursting into attack, she was setting others on their way.

A casual yet lethal ball put Princess Ibini into space with only James to beat. The prodigious goalkeeper did very well to make herself big and stay on her feet. Ibini was forced wide and the eventual shot hit the side netting.

Vine played an almost identical ball to provide Rachel Lowe with an excellent opportunity to double the lead. James was quick off her line again and the shot was stopped by her foot as she dove across to Lowe’s run to keep her team in the game.

As the game wore on, the heat looked to be a factor, and both teams began to tire. City brought on Darcy Malone and Bryleeh Henry to try and find an equaliser. Sydney FC continued to probe with Ibini’s trademark right foot shot brining the best out of James again.

The game opened up, and City’s method of attack became more direct. This meant that Hannah Wilkinson was more involved with quicker service and Sydney’s one-goal lead started to look tenuous.

Nevertheless, it still felt surprising when City finally found an equaliser.  Kaitlyn Torpey volleyed home at the far post, meeting an injury-time corner kick directing the ball between multiple Sydney FC defenders. City had spent long periods of this match under attacking pressure and had held on, then taken their opportunity when it arrived.

City almost snatched the win late when Wilkinson cruised into space in the dying seconds. Her shot from the angle was cut off by Whyman but it was a reminder of what that attack can provide when they receive the ball quickly and in space.

The draw means that the ladder positions of either side do not change much. Sydney FC still remain in contention for a third consecutive premiership but have been made to wait at least another few weeks. City look like solid bets for a finals position, but have still not beaten another top-four side this season.

The impressive self-belief and the form of Chinnama and James will be promising signs though. The dramatic late draw will be extremely valuable to the team when the knockout games begin.

Speaking after the game, Sydney FC head coach Ante Juric said: “I am extremely proud of our performance. The girls played with passion and intensity, which is so pleasing as a coach.

“We created lots of opportunities which we did not capitalise on, but I enjoyed the way we attacked and on how we had a willingness to go forward. Unfortunately, we conceded a last-minute goal off a set piece. The one point is still very important at this point of the season. We now focus on the next match and the job at hand in the next few vital weeks.”

Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (3-4-3(: James, Chinnama, Checker, Bowen, Grosso, Torpey, Galic, Mckenna, McNamara, Rojas, Wilkinson. Substitutes: Blissett, Accardo, Henry, Malone, Varley.

Scorer: Torpey 90+4’.

SYDNEY FC (4-3-1-2): Whyman, Rule, de la Harpe, Tobin, Green, Hunter, Hollman, Hawkesby, Vine, Lowe, Ibini. Substitutes: Collister, J. Dos Santos, I. Dos Santos, Evans, Offer.

Scorer: Vine 24’.

Referee: Anna-Marie Keighley.

Attendance: 463.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, On Her Side.

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