'Finals ready?': Three things we learned - City vs Sydney
Melbourne City rescued a point at the death in a Finals preview clash against Sydney FC at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex earlier this afternoon.
The visiting Sky Blues scored in the opening half when they sliced through the City midfield and defence to put Cortnee Vine through on goal, with the Matildas forward making no mistake one-on-one against Sally James.
Observers witnessed a well-contested match thereafter, with both sides creating plenty of attacking opportunities, but it was Kaitlyn Torpey who had the final say in the 94th minute, volleying first time from Chelsea Blissett's last-gasp corner to ensure that the points would be shared.
With the clash serving as fans' final look at the team when it comes up against the kind of top-four opposition we'll be facing in Finals, here's what we learned from today's performance:
Evidence that we can match it with the best, but we still can't beat them
City's winless record against top four sides this season has been extended for another game, but there were at least indicators that we'll be competitive when Finals arrive.
Following today's clash, City has still lost four of its six encounters against Sydney FC, Western United and Melbourne Victory, but two of those defeats were by a single goal, and the other two games of the six ended in a draw. Sydney may have edged City across many attacking stats again today, but the home side had more than enough opportunities to have made it a higher-scoring affair than we saw.
With no further games against the top four, and with Finals all but locked in, there is an air of insignificance about our final two fixtures against Perth Glory and Canberra United. Both teams will represent a challenge in their own right as the two best teams to (likely) not make Finals, and will serve as good preparation for our post-season campaign, but City fans will have no better idea how we'll fare in the knockouts than we do now.
All that's left for us to do, then, is wait.
Dario's imbalance solution
City's midfield balance has been discussed at length across our platforms this week, and earlier this afternoon, fans got to see Dario Vidosic's proposed solution.
The City Head Coach elected to name a back three of the returning Naomi Chinnama, Emma Checker and Katie Bowen, leaving Daniela Galic and Leticia McKenna ahead of them as our midfield pairing. In all honesty, the tactical move felt like one that didn't quite pay off for Vidosic, as Galic and McKenna spent a whole lot of time chasing forlornly after being played through by the technically brilliant Sydney midfield and defence. That said, it was still a better outcome than we might have seen if McKenna persisted as a solitary #6.
For lack of a more robust, energetic tackler in midfield, this pairing will have to do for now, but issues remain further afield.
Missing Rhianna Pollicina due to personal reasons, the most advanced attacking positions were afforded to Holly McNamara, Cote Rojas and Hannah Wilkinson today, with Bryleeh Henry drawing the short straw and starting on the bench. Despite the wealth of attacking talent still at our disposal, it took until the 94th minute for City to find the back of the net, and this only arrived from the boot of Torpey direct from Chelsea Blissett's corner delivery. On the back of a scoreless display in the Melbourne Derby, there is still reason for concern.
Hannah Wilkinson has performed far below the standards she set for herself in her debut 2021/22 A-League Women's campaign, and, most pertinently, still stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise slick and free-flowing attacking system. The Kiwi has netted three times since returning 11 games ago, but lacks the pace and technical qualities to match the quick interplay of teammates like McNamara, Rojas and Pollicina when fit.
When the latter returns, a 3-4-1-2 seems like the way to play to our best players' strengths, and Wilkinson and Henry are a handy Plan B off the bench when Plan A isn't working.
Kingston Heath should remain our short-term home
How good it felt to watch our City girls at a proper football venue.
Casey Fields has been much maligned since the club began playing senior fixtures there this season, but fans' criticism was only made more justified today by the experience of watching the team play at Kingston Heath, the home of the Bentleigh Greens.
Though the game must have been attended by only a few hundred spectators, those at the ground would have -had an enjoyable time as fans congregated either on the broadcast-side concourse or the sheltered seating area on the far side. This enabled a concentration of noise from supporters and created a real home game feel as City fans all expressed their unbridled frustration or ecstasy in unison, a far cry from the disconnectedness felt at Casey Fields home fixtures.
Our current Cranbourne facilities will one day feel like the home we're all longing for, but until then, Kingston Heath should be the way to go.