McNamara masterclass ends Canberra’s brave season

Melbourne City 3-3 Canberra United

By Kieran Yap (2/4/23)

Above: Hannah Wilkinson reacts after putting Melbourne City ahead today. Photo: KeepUp

A masterclass from Holly McNamara has ended Canberra United’s season, but a fairytale ending was almost on the cards for retiring legend Ellie Brush.  

Melbourne Victory’s late draw with Wellington Phoenix on Saturday had granted Canberra United a lifeline. A win against City and they would make Finals. Anything less would draw the curtain on a dramatic season.  

City continued to tinker with their attack, and Dario Vidosic returned the squad to a look that was familiar from last season. Holly McNamara and Hannah Wilkinson started up front. They were supported by Daniela Galic and Rhianna Pollicina.  

Canberra’s team has been relatively settled for some time, and that consistency has resulted in seven weeks of undefeated football. Their attack makes them a danger to any team and they forged the earliest chances. 

Despite being on the back foot, City scored first. A quick direct attack set McNamara free behind Grace Maher and Ellie Brush. The Matildas striker raced into the penalty area and squared the ball to Wilkinson who tapped home at the back post.  

Canberra were not perturbed though. They responded immediately when Vesna Milivojević won the ball in midfield and played it to Grace Jale out wide.  

The New Zealand international steadied and struck the ball across goal from the edge of the area to beat Melissa Barbieri and level the scores.  

Above: Holly McNamara pictured after scoring – it was a sensational performance from the young gun. Photo: Keep Up.

This was an attacking game between one side that was desperate to win, and another sharpening their claws before a finals assault. City displayed their tactical versatility to retake the lead. An extremely short goal kick resulted in a seemingly endless sequence of passes. City patiently crept their way upfield until McNamara was freed up once more. This time her final pass found Pollicina who scored from the top of the six-yard box.  

Canberra had a chance to level the scores before halftime. Michelle Heyman turned in midfield and ran toward goal. She held off the attention of Naomi Chinnama and slipped a pass through to Jale.  

There was still plenty of work to do, and Barbieri to beat. The Matildas legend made herself large and smothered the eventual close-range shot.  

The game followed a similar pattern in the second half. Canberra had two excellent chances to draw level but both Milivojević and Wu Chengshu missed from good positions.  

That would prove costly when McNamara struck again. Outpacing Hayley Taylor-Young was one thing, lifting the ball over the onrushing Chloe Lincoln was quite another. It was a brilliant finish from a player with all the attributes to become a world-class talent.  

At 3-1 and 30 minutes to play, it looked all over for Canberra, but Milivojević was not ready to quit.  

Above: Kennedy Faulknor battles away for Canberra United. Photo: Keep Up.

A close-range finish from Jale’s cross brought them back into the contest in the 79th minute, then a terrific solo run and finish from 18 yards levelled the scores.  

Canberra had the momentum in the final stages, but could not complete what would have been an epic comeback. Maher’s long-range effort would have made for a spectacular winner but flew marginally wide.  

The draw was an impressive result from Canberra United, but not enough to get them a Finals spot. Although the two big losses were a mere blip in an otherwise strong season, it was costly. Melbourne Victory are through to the Finals on goal difference for the second season in a row.  

City displayed a tactical versatility not seen often this season. They were prepared to go direct when necessary and maintained possession at other times. With an in-form Holly McNamara they will be a challenge for any Finals team.  

This was a frustrating end to Canberra’s season. But they almost achieved the impossible. This year the club was basically ignored in the Grand Final announcement, recovered their form after two consecutive 5-0 losses, had a win stripped away from them then reinstated, and went toe to toe with one of the league’s top teams in essentially a knockout game.  

They overcame significant hurdles this season to be within a whisker of the top four, and have true core of a very good team. If this side can stay together, they will be very exciting next season.  

Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (5-1-2-2): Barbieri, Torpey, Chinnama, Checker, Bowen, Grosso, McKenna, Galic, Pollicina, Wilkinson, McNamara. Substitutes: Henry, Malone, Rojas, Blissett, James.

Scorers: Wilkinson 12’, Pollicina 34’, McNamara 59’.

CANBERRA UNITED (4-4-1-1): Lincoln, Grove, Brush, Maher, Taylor-Young, Jale, Hughes, Milivojević, Flannery, Wu, Heyman. Substitutes: Richards, Murray, Middleton, Ilijoski, Faulknor.

Scorers: Jale 14’ Milivojević 79’, 88’

Referee: Rachael Mitchenson

Attendance: 1,416.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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