It was a grim viewing experience for City fans back home as Dario Vidosic's side found itself comprehensively outplayed by a Western Sydney Wanderers outfit that broke a 14-game winless streak when it secured a 2-0 victory at home earlier this afternoon.
In a performance that could be described as our worst in recent memory, particularly since the lows of 2020/21, few individuals in City blue covered themselves in glory as the team lacked fluidity, organisation and confidence in what was an overall toothless display.
The Wanderers may have been lucky to go ahead in the first half, Sheridan Gallagher scoring one of the most unbelievable goals you'll see thanks to a fortunate deflection and a wild gust of wind, but they were good value for their second, courtesy of Olivia Price, given their dominance throughout the latter period.
For a team that has now lost just two games, with our first defeat against Western United down to bad luck more than a bad performance, this evaluation of the contest will seem harsh, but it's a testament to how far below not only our potential but our proven standards that the team performed today.
We'd been privileged to watch a team capable of playing exhilarating, free-flowing football previously this season, but today's performance was one that was instead best watched with heads buried in hands.
It won't be a pleasant dissection of the display, but there are at least plenty of insights to be drawn as we commence this evening's autopsy:
#9 ≠ #9
Today's article headline stems from the fact that our attacking performance against the Wanderers wasn't a one-off.
Since the departure of our previous '#9'-role player Maria Rojas, City has found quality attacking opportunities difficult to come by, with our only goal in two consecutive games against bottom-half opposition arriving from the penalty spot.
The team has found it difficult to provide service to returning attacking spearhead Hannah Wilkinson, who is a markedly different striker to Chilean international Rojas.
So much of what made City's brand of football irresistible in the first third of the campaign was the South American's ability to link play and bring her teammates into the game. She and attacking midfielder Rhianna Pollicina made transitioning through the centre of the pitch a breeze, with City's wide players then easily released following the breaking of defensive structures. If it wasn't in transition, then Rojas could also unsettle backlines with her problematic dribbling, shifting defences or delaying and distracting just long enough for a teammate to get into a dangerous position unseen.
All of these strengths Wilkinson lacks, but that's not a fair comparison; the real issue is that we've forgotten how to make the most of hers.
Wingers and midfielders who have spent the first third of the season troubling defences with clever interplay and off-ball movement in combination with Rojas now have to find a way to provide quality service from wide to find the aerial dominance - or otherwise intelligent attacking positioning - of Wilkinson. The Kiwi is far from a one-dimensional player, but there's no denying her strengths as a finisher who does her best work in the penalty area rather than helping to get it there.
The issue, in summary, is that we've replaced a #9 with a #9, but that's an equation that doesn't always result in parity.
Not just a poor team performance, but individually too
City's lack of attacking bite may have been the result of a systematic failure, but it certainly wasn't helped by a drop in individual standards across the board.
It's often an exaggeration, but it really is difficult to think of a single individual who had a positive performance. Leah McKenna was subbed off at half-time, whilst Naomi Chinnama and Leah Davidson followed 10 minutes later. Wilkinson was slightly more lively than last week, but barely troubled the keeper with her four shots. Bryleeh Henry and Pollicina were almost anonymous, whilst Daniela Galic proved that while she is many things, a winger is not one of those, and that she is best suited to applying her technical capabilities centrally (worthy of a 'lesson learned' in itself). The defence may have been unlucky to concede a freak goal in the first half, but questions can certainly be asked about the marking of Price for the second.
To search for the lesson out of all this (really, you'd be hoping there isn't one, and that these individual showings really are just outliers) there could be a valid concern that the several youngsters in our team are prone to this type of drop in confidence and technique amidst wider team capitulation. Eight of our starting XI are 23 or younger, after all, and few have built up the experience of several seasons at the top level to have developed the mental fortitude to endeavour individually even when all else is falling apart.
What's going on at left-back?
Even though our 1-0 performance over Perth wasn't convincing, I wasn't surprised to see any meaningful outfield changes (Pollicina replaced the now-departed Emina Ekic), but did raise an eyebrow at the second consecutive start of Blissett at left-back.
Her positional counterpart Julia Grosso has been very impressive this season, and though a rotational benching against Perth made sense, she has hardly deserved to fall behind Blissett in the pecking order.
This contention was only validated further when the emergency glass was again broken at half-time, with Grosso entering the contest at this point for a second-consecutive game.
Grosso is clearly a dependable asset at Vidosic's disposal, and the American brings with her a wealth of athleticism, composure and technical quality that Blissett has failed to match (though it is good to see the latter have her loyalty and determination rewarded with significant playing time this season after so many campaigns disrupted by injury or playing second fiddle to superstars).
With all that said, Grosso simply must start midweek against Adelaide United. The contest is a must-win clash against another Finals contender that has similarly stuttered and stumbled over the past two weeks, failing to score against Newcastle and Canberra. Our American full-back will have the fitness advantage over Blissett (who played two-thirds of this afternoon's match), but will also bring an added edge when marauding into the final third, as has been sorely needed in the absence of Rojas and Ekic.