Melbourne City FC won their third match in a row to book a spot in the W-League Season 9 Grand Final, defeating Canberra United at home.
Canberra United came agonisingly close in their second match at Canberra Stadium on an evening fixture, but it was Jess Fishlock who found the back of the net in extra time.
In a repeat of their first clash this season, Canberra dominated in many areas of the match up, but were unable to capitalise.
Canberra United – Key points and players
Canberra United did all but the crucial thing of scoring goals in the semi-final. After 120 minutes, all that separated two top W-League sides was a goal scored in a split second.
Coach Rae Dower was frank about a match in which the beauty of the game, and its cruel side were at work.
“[I’m] bitterly disappointed with the result, but not with the performance. I couldn’t have asked more of the girls. Celeste [Boureille] had run 14.5km before extra time had started. That’s the kind of effort, and Ash [Sykes] and Hayley [Raso] were up in ridiculous numbers in the red zone for their repeated sprints.
“I think you can genuinely say the girls left nothing out there – they tried, gave absolutely 100 percent. At the end of the day, our opponents scored that vital goal and we just couldn’t put one in the back of the net.”
Yukari Kinga for much of the game did the work of 2 midfielders. She was defending and pushing in transition, poaching balls, and even cracked a few classy shots. It capped off an excellent season for which the Japanese international cleaned up in club awards.
Grace Maher was quiet in the centre, perhaps a reflection of how much she dominated earlier fixtures, or a sign of weary legs. Maher, Boureille and Kinga formed a brilliant combination this season, bringing a mixture of experience and form to the centre.
Raso was impressive on her flank, featuring in a physical role both in defence and attack, and in keeping with Canberra’s season, the team performance was impressive, making for an entertaining encounter.
Ash Sykes reflected on her reluctant captain turn, conceding it hurts at the front for losses like this one.
“I think I grew into it a little bit. The first few games I wasn’t quite sure if what I was doing on the field should change at all. I tried to keep doing what I’ve always done, trying to do my job, add a bit of extra talk; that kind of thing. The girls don’t cause any problems for me. In the end, it wasn’t as terrifying as I have always thought.”
Not long after full time, slumped United players scattering the pitch were called across for a presentation of the Premier’s Plate. Canberra had secured this on the back of favourable results, and their win against Melbourne Victory a week earlier.
The disconnect could not have been more stark, and yet Dower was focussed on the achievement of her side.
“We’re really proud of our season. To finish Premier’s Plate winners, it’s great and is celebrated all over the world as the top gong. In this country it’s not. So, while we were the leading team for the home and away season, one game there doesn’t define our year there.”
Canberra United came into the season with a stacked forward line, but struggled to score goals on enough occasions that questions will most likely linger. The hunt for a new coach on, and an assortment of players returning from injury, sabbaticals and the lure of AFL, the offseason is likely to be a fascinating one.
Melbourne City – Key points and players
After a mid-season dip, City was able to carry on what seems to be a perfectly timed upswing into the clash against Canberra. They again dominated in passing accuracy, and possession, and were able to snatch the win built on the calmness that facilitated.
Lydia Williams was again key in City’s strong defensive turn against Canberra. She might be a little sore after a collision with Jasmyne Spencer late in the second half, but it didn’t stop her work rate. The defence was rock-solid, despite almost constant pressure from United from range and inside the box.
The match showed a team that has regathered their shape, and perhaps confidence. Particularly in extra time, City players showed their nerve and conditioning, when panic was a real risk. Player-coach Jess Fishlock spoke about how they’ve turned the season around.
“To be honest, for us I think it’s been a season of mentality. We lost it a little bit through the season, and that’s where we didn’t get the results that we wanted.”
“When things might get a little bit too easy, we get complacent. That’s what happened this season. But, like I said – credit to the girls because they’ve turned it around.”
The match was played in stifling conditions, even as a night fixture.
“I was really happy that it got changed to the evening. It was going to be really ridiculous at two o’clock. It was still really hot out there, so humid and it’s hard to play in that heat. When you play in that heat, you know that there’s moments you’re going to be on top, and there’s moments in the game where you’re going to be defending for your life. That’s what heat does to games, it shifts the momentum.”
Fishlock, as goalscorer and coach was juggling her feelings in two roles.
“It’s hard, if I was just a player right now I’d probably be going crazy. Running around and being a little bit of a madwoman. But obviously – straight away I think about next week. I can’t really enjoy it as much as I would if I was just a player.
“But, in saying that there is a little bit more satisfaction that you get as a coach, because you know that the work you’ve done throughout the week, the tactics that you prepare, the changes that you made during the game made such a difference.”
Canberra United are done for Season 9, finishing with the Premier’s Plate and Ash Sykes’ Golden Boot, while Melbourne City head to Perth with hopes of snatching glory and back to back championships.
Fishlock knows City have had their backs against the wall and the push for a historic back-to-back championship has not been easy.
“When everyone was writing us off, we’re in the grand final and we’re on our way to defend a title. And that is not an easy thing to do, I’m telling you, because when you win it once, you’re the team that everyone wants to beat.
“We’re in a great position. The last three, four weeks for us have been superb. And we can really go into the final, with such positivity and that’s a great feeling.”
Canberra United 0
Melbourne City FC 1 (Fishlock 107’)
Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Rebecca Durcau
Canberra United: Trudy Burke (gk), Yukari Kinga, Emma Checker, Hayley Raso, Grace Maher (Ellie Brush 79’), Jenna McCormick (Nickoletta Flannery 108’), Jasmyne Spencer (Lisa De Vanna 78’), Hannah Brewer, Ashleigh Sykes, Celeste Boureille, Stephanie Ochs
Substitutes: Georgia Boric (gk), Kahlia Hogg
Cautions: Ellie Brush 114’, Lisa De Vanna 117’
Melbourne City FC: Lydia Williams (gk), Teigen Allen, Lauren Barnes, Laura Alleway, Aivi Luik, Stephanie Catley, Jessica Fishlock, Erika Tymrak (Amy Jackson 71’), Rebekah Stott, Beverly Goebel, Marianna Tabain (Melina Ayres 120+2’)
Substitutes: Emily Shields (gk), Tyla Jay Vlajnic
Cautions: Lauren Barnes 11’