The Westfield W League Grand Final pitted together the two most successful sides over the past five seasons. Impetus editor Ben Gilby reports.
Melbourne City completed their unbeaten season by winning the W League Grand Final, albeit due to a highly fortuitous goal in a match that was played behind closed doors at their AAMI Stadium home.
It is the third time that these two sides have met in Grand Finals, with City continuing their unbeaten record in the decider against Sydney FC, adding this year’s title to the ones they earned over the Harbour City side in 2016 and 2018.
Rado Vidošić’s star-studded Melbourne City side started the game as red-hot favourites, with Newcastle Jets, ironically the W League wooden spoonists, the only side they failed to beat after playing out a 1-1 draw on the opening day of the season. City went on to win every game from that day forwards.
Sydney started on the front foot with Veronica Latsko making a purposeful run down the left before releasing a cross-shot which went narrowly wide.
In these early stages, it was clear that the New South Wales based underdogs had been sent out by coach Ante Juric to press Melbourne high and get in their faces. On eight minutes, Remy Siemsen danced down the right before cutting inside Emma Checker and firing a curling shot into the arms of Lydia Williams.
Two minutes later there was another opportunity for Sydney when Sofia Huerta’s free kick was headed out by Checker but only as far as Teresa Polias whose effort was wide.
It took thirteen minutes before Melbourne City fashioned their first chance when Catley strode through the midfield but couldn’t find Scottish striker Clare Emslie. Shortly afterwards, the favourites fired a warning shot when Emily van Egmond found Catley down the left, but the Australian international’s shot was over the bar.
On the quarter of an hour mark, City went ahead, but there was a huge slice of fortune about it. A wonderful one-two involving Catley and van Egmond ended with Catley hitting a shot from the left of the box which Aubrey Bledsoe looked to have gathered, but she allowed the ball to squirm out of her grasp and it agonisingly rolled over the line and into the net.
Buoyed by the goal, Melbourne pressed forward and Lauren Barnes crossed in from the left to van Egmond, but the Matildas star’s effort was held by Bledsoe.
Sydney almost gifted City another on thirty two minutes when experienced Australian international Allana Kennedy hit a pass straight to Melbourne striker Clare Emslie, but Bledsoe redeemed herself for the earlier mistake by making a magnificent save to prevent a certain goal. Sydney were on the ropes and two minutes later, they presented another gift to City when Kyah Simon profited and hit a screamer against the bar before Natalie Tobin cleared.
As the half came towards its conclusion, Sydney had strong claims for a penalty turned down. Huerta’s attempted cross cannoned back off the arm of Catley, but inexplicably, referee Rebecca Durcau turned the appeals down.
Three minutes before the interval, the Harbour City side had another great opportunity when Siemsen played in Huerta but Williams dived down to her right to save.
Melbourne City’s teenage star Ellie Carpenter conjured up the first opportunity of the second half when she went on a trademark sprint down the right before cutting inside and firing over.
Veronica Latsko fashioned a golden opportunity for Sydney on forty nine minutes as she lifted an effort over Williams, but the City keeper was able to get a touch to slow down the progress of the ball and allow Carpenter to scramble the danger away.
That chance inspired the favourites to put their foot on the offensive pedal once more as a catalogue of opportunities were created.
First, Emslie released in-form Melbourne City and Australia striker Kyah Simon, but her shot was narrowly wide of the post. Then Carpenter took the ball from just outside her own box past any number of attempted Sydney tackles before driving past Lindsay Agnew and hitting an effort just past the post.
Carpenter was involved again six minutes later when another run down the right resulted in a cross which was played back to Emily van Egmond, but Bledsoe dived to save.
With ten minutes to go, Sydney created their final chance when Latsko drove down the left and combined with Huerta who squared a ball across the box to substitute Princess Ibini, but her side footed effort was pushed away by Williams.
The final two chances both fell to Melbourne City when new arrival Ally Watt sprinted down the right and fired a weak shot at Bledsoe. The Sydney keeper presented City with a golden opportunity to seal the win a minute into stoppage time when her clearance cannoned straight back off of substitute Milica Mijatovic and rolled just wide.
The final whistle was greeted by raucous cheers from the Melbourne City players and staff, but celebrations were slightly muted by the absence of any fans in the 30,000 seater stadium due to the coronavirus outbreak.
This victory was City’s fourth – a record – to add to their wins in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Sydney remain the second most successful side in the W League with three Grand Final wins – 2010, 2013 and 2019, having played in seven of the twelve title deciders in the league’s history.
Melbourne City deserved their title over the season as they have been a class apart. Steph Catley was by far the most impressive player in the Grand Final, with the 19 year-old Australian superstar Ellie Carpenter celebrating yet another magnificent season.
Melbourne City: Lydia Williams, Rebekah Stott, Emma Checker, Lauren Barnes, Ellie Carpenter, Aivi Luik, Yukari Kinga (Mijatovic: 67), Steph Catley, Kyah Simon (Watt: 85), Clare Emslie, Emily van Egmond. Subs: Melissa Barbieri (GK), Rhali Dobson, Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, Milica Mijatovic, Ally Watt.
Sydney FC: Aubrey Bledsoe, Ally Green, Allana Kennedy, Ellie Brush, Lindsay Agnew, Natalie Tobin (Sayer: 73), Teresa Polias, Taylor Ray (Hawkesby: 85), Sofia Huerta, Remy Siemsen (Ibini: 62), Veronica Latsko. Subs: Trudy Burke (GK), Mackenzie Hawkesby, Angelique Hristodoulou, Amy Sayer, Princess Ibini.