'And nothing else matteerrrsss': Three things we learned - City vs Canberra
Melbourne City threw away a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Canberra United on Sunday night, but it all came with one major caveat: the match was more or less a dead rubber, and - this time around - none of it really mattered.
The electric Holly McNamara teed up Hannah Wilkinson perfectly in the 12th minute to kickstart what was an incredible performance from the teenager, later assisting Rhianna Pollicina to restore City's lead in the 34th following Grace Jale's almost immediate reply to the first.
McNamara would cap her night off with a brilliant chipped finish early in the second half to make it 3-1, but yet another defensive capitulation saw City concede a pair of late goals to Vesna Milivojevic, with the points ultimately shared by the final whistle.
Here's what we learned from City's final game of the regular season:
Our Elimination Final opponent will be…
And of the three potential matchups, they're perhaps the weakest.
This season, Melbourne Derbies have ended in a 1-1 draw and a 2-0 Victory win where the scoreline probably wasn't indicative of the equality between the playing squads on the field. Fortunately for us, however, that was the last set of three points that Victory collected in the 2022/23 regular season. It was the only win they've had in their past five games, a run which included three consecutive draws against mediocre sides like Canberra, Brisbane and Wellington.
On the other side of the equation, City has won just one of its past seven games, so whatever we're inclined to think of Victory in terms of their favourability, they're probably also thinking it about us.
Our attack still functions without Rojas
To the surprise of many yesterday, Dario Vidosic benched one of his most dangerous attackers in Cote Rojas in order to start the hot-and-cold Hannah Wilkinson.
And it worked.
Yesterday's performance saw the return of clinicality in front of goal for Melbourne City, with the team scoring three goals from 15 shots - a conversion rate of a respectable 20%. The team also handily outperformed its xG of 1.9, and could have scored even more with a flurry of late threatening moves, particularly on the counter.
Importantly, the Wilkinson-Rojas exchange directly payed off, with the Kiwi striker netting her second goal in as many games to move her to five for the season. Whilst the selection decision was effective from the start of the match, it also has the potential to have positive late-match ramifications; Rojas feels like a more dangerous weapon off the bench when chasing games than Wilkinson.
It may have taken til the final game of the regular season, but it seems like Vidosic may have finally discovered his most effective starting XI.
We need to decide where we need Bowen most
As one problem dissolves, another arises, and Vidosic has a problem.
When he employs Katie Bowen in defence, whether as part of a back three or back four, the team inevitably concedes fewer attacking opportunities. However, it is at the expense of a functional midfield, where the 'square peg in a round hole' of young Leticia McKenna playing as a #6 is a vulnerability for all to see.
The issue is, in moving Bowen into midfield over the past two games, City is certainly improved in the centre of the park, but conceded seven goals against Perth and Canberra. In making this change, which usually accompanies a switch from a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 to a 4-2-2-2, Vidosic has swapped a low-scoring team that concedes few goals for one that can find the back of the net more often, but with a tendency to fruitlessly trade goals.
The solution, honestly, is unclear.
The ideal fix would be for Karly Roestbakken, who seems to constantly be on the periphery, to suddenly find a clean bill of health so that Vidosic at least has three fit centre-backs other than Bowen, so she can continue in midfield. This, of course, seems unlikely.
The most probable outcome, then, is that Vidosic will simply choose the deficiency he'd prefer to have.
And with Finals on our doorstep, all that fans can do is watch and wait.