'Only ourselves to blame': Three things we learned - Western United vs City
In a clash that gave fans a sinking sense of déjà vu from our meeting with Western United earlier in the season, City has again lost to the team in green and black despite dominating the attacking chances in what was ultimately a 2-1 loss at AAMI Park earlier this afternoon.
Leticia McKenna opened the scoring with a sumptuous finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, but only after City passed up a multitude of chances to take an earlier lead.
This inaccuracy continued throughout the game for our City girls, who took the scoreline advantage into the half-time break but gave it away almost immediately when Sally James gifted the ball to Hannah Keane to score one of the easiest goals of her career.
A sickening repeat of our earlier clash with Western United, the contest was again decided by a late penalty awarded for a handball by Julia Grosso when a shot was unavoidably smashed into her arm, with the defender surely feeling cursed despite putting in a mostly brilliant performance otherwise.
Begrudgingly, here's what we learned from the frustrating affair:
Silverware hopes now rest on Finals
Prior to kick-off, this game was referred to as our ‘last chance saloon’. Now our Premiership hopes are over.
Sydney FC unexpectedly losing to Canberra earlier this afternoon does complicate the issue a bit, but the fact remains that City now finds itself five points behind league leaders Western United and without another chance to take points directly off them before the end of the season.
Our hopes of stealing an unlikely Premiers Plate from United or Sydney’s grasp seemed minute in the first place, with our girls likely needing to go on a perfect run of form to close out the season, but now the achievement appears almost impossible thanks to today’s result.
Thus, our silverware hopes are turned towards the Finals series.
However, whilst the A-League Women is renowned for its unpredictability, even our aspirations of an inspired Finals series and first Championship win since 2020 would seem improbable. Our City girls are yet to beat a top four team this year, losing twice to Western United, once to Sydney and drawing with Melbourne Victory. From here, the objective will be to improve performances in our upcoming clashes with the latter two sides as we start to re-assimilate key attacking personnel like Maria Rojas and Holly McNamara.
Now off the pace in the Premiership race, we can only hope to make some noise when knockout football arrives.
Finishing hadn’t cost us before. Now it has.
Purely speaking about our post-Rojas period of form, we’ve been lucky not to have dropped more points due to poor finishing. Now we’ve been made to pay.
Since losing our star Chilean, City wins have been characterised by stingy defensive performances and just enough fortunate attacking breakthroughs to see us secure the three points. This was particularly the case in our clashes with Western Sydney, Adelaide United, and to a lesser extent, Perth Glory, whilst our losses have seen us thoroughly outplayed to the point where our finishing was irrelevant. With the sense that we were able to steal wins on those aforementioned occasions, it feels like the debt was finally repaid this afternoon.
As in those aforementioned fixtures, City created more than enough big chances to put the game to bed early. Bryleeh Henry was amongst our liveliest in the first half with her intelligent movement and pace in the final third seeing her on the end of several big chances which she should have capitalised on, though she redeemed herself slightly by assisting Leticia McKenna's opener. Julia Grosso also found herself with some quality shooting opportunities, but the defender instead continued a trend of missing big chances. Concerningly, Hannah Wilkinson didn't get a sniff at all.
Now able to focus on improving in time for Finals, our City girls need to find a clinical edge to have their otherwise strong performances rewarded.
The goalkeeping divide is bigger than we thought
Sally James and Melissa Barbieri had largely been regarded as equals throughout this season, with fans welcoming the quality available in reserve when one or the other has been unavailable. Today, James' unbelievable error to gift United their first goal has put a spotlight on that belief and proven it to be false.
Though one goal-costing blunder doesn't define a goalkeeper, in James' case, it made us think to analyse how City has performed when she takes her place between the sticks compared to how her more senior counterpart fares.
The numbers are telling.
In the teenager's 689 minutes played, she has conceded 10 goals. When Barbieri is on the pitch, City has conceded just once. James, on average, has faced a shot on target every 32 minutes, and saves 71.9% of the time. Barbieri has saved 93.3% of the shots on target that she's faced, despite one arriving every 26 minutes. Ultimately, James has conceded three more goals than would be expected based on the quality of chances she's faced. Barbieri has saved City at least one goal more than she would have been similarly expected to.
With Barbieri ruled out with a long-term injury, this data is ultimately futile, but speaks to James' need to improve her performances if City is a chance to pursue silverware this season.