The Wanderers went into the new year desperate for a win to salvage their season. With only one point on the board with five games to go it was going to take a miracle for them to even get close to finals contention.
It was always going to be a tough task to win against the defending champions Melbourne City but they played with plenty of heart and could have pulled off the upset of the season. Could have.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 – Melbourne City 2
City started the game like a team who thought they had the 3 points in the bag. They were dominant in possession but not too urgent or hurried.
Like many teams who find themselves playing the champions this season, the Wanderers sat back and looked to break through on the counter. It paid dividends when they opened the scoring through Georgia Yeoman-Dale.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a commenter remark ‘uncharacteristic City turnover’ this season I would probably have enough money to conclude that it’s not uncharacteristic any more. City have been sloppy this season and opposition teams are capitalising. In this case, the Wanderers belted the ball up the field through Leena Khamis who pushed the ball into the path of Yeoman-Dale.
The finish was a thing of beauty. Judging that she had nowhere left to go, and seeing Williams off her line, Yeoman-Dale managed to chip the keeper and slot it home from well outside the box. A game that looked like it was going to meander towards a foregone conclusion suddenly reared into life.
City looked like they would immediately hit back but the Wanderers defence through Miromontez managed to get a foot in. That became a theme of the night – City piled on the pressure and seemed to easily have the measure of their counterparts in one-on-one battles but the Western Sydney defence would always get a foot in. Well, except for two times, sadly.
The Wanderers will claim they should have been 2-0 up in the 17th minute. Halloway was one-on-one with the keeper when she was called offside. Judging by the replays that we were given, she was not. Williams saved her shot but anything could have happened on the rebound and at the very least they would have ended up with a corner.
Elizabeth Addo was phenomenal this game. She was the only Wanderers player who was pressing and they looked better for it. Often it felt like Western Sydney players were hesitant in attack and their indecisiveness was leading to break ups in attacking plays. The tactic to sit back and hit City on the break was completely understandable but they were able to rattle their opposition when they pushed forward.
Inviting City to keep coming at them would always spell danger and it did through Tameka Butt. In the words of Yeoman-Dale in the tunnel interview at half time they just switched off for 30 seconds and that was enough to let a striker of the quality of Butt belt it in top bins from the edge of the box. City were back level, but it was clear they weren’t going to be satisfied with that.
They came out a much better team in the second half. Jasmyne Spencer, always threatening, stepped up another level and would have scored about 10 minutes in if not for the offdside flag. Steph Catley also looked in ominous touch in both defense and attack. It’s a sight to behold for Matilda’s fans but not so great if you’re a fan of a team that has to line up against her.
City were dominating in the box, desperate to score in order to significantly boost their chances of finals football. Adriana Jones almost scored with her head, and then Rhali Dobson succeeded in chipping the Wanderers keeper Simonsen only to see her effort go slightly wide. The champions were getting frustrated, exemplified by a clear foul from Spencer on Khamis that seemed to be a retaliation for not getting the call her way at the other end of the pitch. There seemed to be a small, but real, possibility that the Wanderers could hold out.
Alas. A lovely touch from Rhali Dobson put Adriana Jones through in the 80th minute. Jones proceeded to calmly round the keeper and slot the ball in the back of the net. City had their lead and it didn’t seem likely that they would relinquish it.
I feel like the next 10 minutes proved my theory that the Wanderers weren’t adventurous enough for the rest of the game. They had two good chances in that last period of play largely thanks to the efforts of the superb Elizabeth Addo. In the first, Addo teed up Halloway who was free in front of goal but couldn’t get a toe on it. In the second, Remy Siemsen just shot wide after a lovely flick from Addo again. It makes me wonder if they could have scored more had they pressed the City defence just a bit harder.
The Wanderers will be bitterly disappointed to come out of this game without a point. They fought hard and fought as a team. Unfortunately it looks like they have to already start looking to next season in order to take the positives from this performance.
It was another 3 points in the bag for Melbourne City who will no doubt look to repeat the previous few years of recovering from a sluggish start to sweep the opposition away in the back end of the season. I don’t know if I can see that happening this year. I could be made to look silly but I just don’t think they are the same team as previous years. Something isn’t clicking and they’re turning the ball over too easily. Individual quality could get them over the line particularly with the US international Lynn Williams about to join them, but there’s plenty of individual quality in the rest of the competition as well.
PS – how good is Kellond-Knight when she’s played in her actual position of centre mid? So good. So satisfying. Definitely not looking at any particular Australian coaches right now…
By Taryn Heddo