Canberra United are off to a dream start in season eleven of the W-League, downing perennial Champions Melbourne City FC 2-0 at McKellar Park.
We saw solid displays from both teams with chances at both ends, but the victory reflected the pressure Canberra’s midfield and wing-backs placed on City’s playmakers throughout the match.
Melbourne City had never played at McKellar Park as their matches in Canberra have always been at Canberra Stadium as part of A-League double-headers, in which they emerged victors.
This was pitched as a rivalry round of sorts, and it played out in the stands, on the field and on the sidelines. After a challenge by Jasmyne Spencer on Canberra goalkeeper Sham Khamis, the benches came to life - “She’s famous for it, ref!” called new Canberra United assistant coach Ashleigh Sykes. “Don’t worry Jas, that’s never a free kick,” consoled Melbourne City substitute goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.
There were good signs for Canberra early as their shape held firm across the park and Rhoda Mulaudzi collected plenty of the ball, showing her distribution is clean in all directions. Denise O’Sullivan was another standout in midfield for Canberra. Her pace, stamina and touch were world class, coming off a championship winning season in the NWSL with North Carolina.
Canberra’s goals both came in the second half. The first was a quick ball over the top from Jane ‘Fifi’ Refiloe to her countrywoman Mulaudzi who touched it over Lydia Williams. The second saw Ellie Carpenter push out wide to Mulaudzi, before knocking in calmly the ball returned to her in the box.
This game was an introduction to Canberra United fans of a new team with a new plan.
Coach Heather Garriock was relieved and proud of the side, hoping it was the first of many wins.
“To be under so much pressure, and obviously from a publicity point of view, it’s been tough for many months now. But I think the key was that we believed and we knew if we executed the game plan then we could certainly do Melbourne City, and we did.”
Melbourne City had their chances, the best of which came from looped balls over the throng to the far post. One header of Rhali Dobson’s clanged off the crossbar and another in the first half saw Janna Lawson head it just wide. Theresa Nielsen had the best of the second half chances, while an offside call denied Adriana Jones an equaliser.
City’s strength was their backline – Rebekah Stott, Amy Jackson, Lauren Barnes and Theresa Nielsen stifled the majority of Canberra’s launches into the final third. With Tameka Butt, Elise Kellond-Knight, Kyah Simon and Steph Catley still to return, City fans should treat today’s loss as a good learning experience for their new recruits.
Melbourne City FC coach Rado Vidošić was happy with the first half, but philosophical about his first loss at the helm.
“It is hard to gel everyone so early in the season. But, it is what it is, and we’ll just keep working.
After the second round, we have a little bit of a break with FIFA dates, and we play the Melbourne derby, so I would say after Round 3 our season will probably start because after Round 3 we should have everyone back and we should have ten days to prepare for the next game.”
Vidošić spoke of the importance of W-League experience for his younger players.
“You could see that the Canberra girls are a bit tougher, they look like they all played in this league for a few years, so they’ve got a little bit more experience, and they use their body better than some of our younger girls. But it’s just experience that you need to learn, and you can only learn that if you play in these games. Nia [Stamatopoulos], Chelsea [Blissett], Amy [Jackson] - they will just get better and better once they play more games.”
Canberra United may just have announced themselves as a contender this year, or were blessed by the scheduling gods to play an understrength City first up, something that we’ll get more clarity on in the coming rounds. Either way, Garriock and her side are already back to work.
“Winning builds momentum, but we don’t take the foot off the pedal. We’ll enjoy the win tonight, and then next week’s focus is with Perth Glory.”
Canberra United take on Perth Glory at home next week, while Melbourne City host Sydney FC in Round 2.