Melbourne City ended their disappointing campaign on a winning note with a 2-1 win over a game young Perth Glory outfit at Frank Holohan Reserve in Dandenong.
The game marked 28 year-old Melbourne City striker Rhali Dobson’s final appearance after 109 games to support her partner who has brain cancer and made a post-match marriage proposal to her in emotional scenes. She was also on the scoresheet for City in a storybook ending to her career.
In contrast to last weekend’s clash between the two sides in Western Australia, the game opened in end to end style, but similarly to that match, it was pretty physical at times.
With five minutes gone, some good play down the left by Tyla-Jay Vlajnic resulted in a cross to Leah Davidson who fired an effort narrowly over the bar.
Perth responded with character. Deborah-Ann De La Harpe became more of a threat along the left and combined well with teenage star Hana Lowry in the central midfield position. Her glorious angled ball out to Tijan McKenna saw the 16 year-old take a touch and unleash a fierce shot which was just wide.
Another of Glory’s youngsters, 18 year-old Isabella Wallhead was putting in arguably her best shift of the campaign, biting at the ankles of Dobson to prevent her raids.
It was still Vlajnic who was at the heart of the most dangerous action City were producing. She danced her way down the left with a quarter of an hour played and hit another shot which was just wide.
Wallhead again got the better of Dobson after Vlajnic played in a teasing ball from the left. The Western Australian youngster ensured she got there before Dobson could slide on to the end of the cross.
The first corner of the game came in the twenty-first minute when Lowry’s shot was deflected away. From the resulting ball in, Lowry had two more shots on goal in quick succession. If Glory captain Tash Rigby could have stuck out a foot after the teenager’s second attempt, it could easily have been diverted into the net.
Glory have never been quite the same side coming forward since the devastating early season injury to Gemma Craine. The English striker had come into the season in great scoring form for Fremantle City in the WA NPLW and was looking very dangerous for Perth in their opening two games.
After the hour mark, chances became slightly fewer and farther between as the importance of the first goal became to become ever more apparent.
With five minutes until half-time, Melbourne City missed a catalogue of chances in quick succession as the Perth Glory penalty area resembled a pinball machine. Alex Chidiac’s effort rebounded off of Wallhead to Chinatsu Kira, but Perth keeper Lily Alfeld smothered her effort straight into the path of Dobson. Her shot came back off Isabella Wallhead again and fell to Chidiac who was denied by yet another block from Wallhead.
Despite a highly eventful first forty-five minutes, the score line remained 0-0.
Caitlin Doeglas, who has been in good form for the visitors over recent weeks was finally seen in an attacking mode at the start of the second half when she showed her pace down the right and got an effort away which forced a save from Melissa Barbieri in the Melbourne City goal.
Doeglas caused more problems along the right in this period, but Perth were unable to capitalise.
Melbourne City came close on the hour mark with Vlajnic getting away again down the wing. Her fierce effort was just wide of the left hand post.
A sustained period of pressure began from City with a dangerous low ball into the box cleared brilliantly by Glory striker Alexia Moreno at the cost of a corner with sixty-three minutes played. Kira played the resulting flag kick into the box. Rhali Dobson’s header across the area was not responded to quickly enough by Glory and Tori Tumeth was able to play a back heel across the box which Dobson was able to hit home – a wonderful way to commemorate her final game.
The pressure continued to grow on Glory. Chidiac was played in by Dobson, but just as she was about to get a shot away, McKenna put in a crucial tackle at the cost of a corner. From Chidiac’s delivery Emma Checker’s effort rebounded off of the right hand post into the arms of Alfeld in the Perth goal.
With twenty minutes to go, Marianna Tabain came on for Perth Glory for her hundredth appearance. Shortly after this, Sarah Carroll, who also came on for the Western Australians at the same time, conceded a free kick to the right of centre about ten metres outside of the box. Vlajnic’s effort just bounced wide of the right hand post.
After seventy-five minutes, an emotional Rhali Dobson was substituted to a great ovation from the crowd on her final appearance in women’s football. It was the final chapter of a wonderful career of a great player who has been a real driving force in positive change for the sport.
Melbourne City wrapped the points with ten minutes to play when a poor clearance from Alfeld in the Perth goal gave possession to Kira on the right. The Japanese international laid off a square ball to Harriet Withers on the edge of the box. In turn, she found Alex Chidiac who took a touch to see off the efforts of Tash Rigby and Liz Anton and fire a shot into the net.
From the re-start, Kira was able to crash in another shot which Alfeld grabbed above her head.
The vast majority of the remaining ten minutes was played inside the Perth half, but despite the fierce pressure, the home side could not add to their tally.
Instead, Glory were rewarded for their determination by grabbing a consolation in stoppage time at the end of the game. Marianna Tabain turned Sarah Cain in midfield and played a superb chipped ball through into the path of substitute Patricia Charalambous. The 26 year-old striker hit a great first time effort into the far corner.
Melbourne City started the season as defending champions and with a squad that, whilst not as star-studded as the 2019/20 version, on paper still looked well capable of playing Finals football. It has been far from a vintage season for the Sky Blues and ending it with three straight wins does not gloss over what a poor return it has been for them.
Perth Glory captain Tash Rigby reflected on the game saying: “We really gave it to them last time we played them and went out to eliminate their structure. They have a strong three at the back, so we were looking to press really high and that worked in the first half. It was definitely a better performance than last weekend. We’re looking to improve every week.”
Alex Epakis’ side have one more chance to gain that all important first win of the season, but it comes away to a Melbourne Victory side who will be looking for a win to confirm a place in the Finals.
Melbourne City: Barbieri, Vlajnic, Checker, Johnson, Thomas-Chinnama, Tumeth, Hoelsbrekken-Eckhoff, Dobson, Davidson, Kira, Chidiac. Substitutes: Varley (GK), Withers, Sardo, Muldeary, Cain.
Scorers: Dobson 63, Chidiac 79.
Perth Glory: Alfeld, De La Harpe, Rigby, Anton, Wallhead, Lowry, Steinmetz, Morgan, Moreno, Gale, Douglas. Substitutes: Bennett (GK), Carroll, McKenna, Jukic, Tabain.
Scorer: Charalambous 90+5
Photo: Melbourne City