World Cup star makes way for XI switch; New duo ignites instantly: Liberty A-League R6 Talking Points

Join Niav Owens, Teo Pellizzeri, Alicia Ferguson and Pokuah Frimpong for Dub Zone, unpacking all the biggest talking points from an action-packed Round 6 in the Liberty A-League.

These are the key talking points from Round 6 in the Liberty A-League.

Western Sydney Wanderers snapped their winless run on the road, while Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City recorded statement victories over Perth Glory and Sydney FC.

An NPL sharpshooter got off the mark and Newcastle Jets could be set to unleash a new, dynamic attacking duo.

With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 6 of the Liberty A-League.

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Wanderers make a statement in drought-ending win

Away games had not been kind to Western Sydney Wanderers before Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Western United.

The Wanderers had gone 20 consecutive matches without a win on the road in the Liberty A-League.

Not since January 2022 – against Brisbane Roar – had Western Sydney celebrated a victory away from Wanderers Football Park.

But that changed in Round 6 as Robbie Hooker’s side conquered last season’s Grand Finalists.

MATCH REPORT: Wanderers snap 20-game drought to celebrate first win of Liberty A-League season

The Wanderers claimed their first win of the season thanks to goals from Sophie Harding and Cushla Rue at City Vista Recreation Reserve.

Harding was a threat throughout the contest.

The 24-year-old kept Western United’s defenders on their toes and her determination led to the breakthrough goal in the 82nd minute.

After her brace against Melbourne City in Round 5, Harding has now scored three goals in six games. It is already her best ever return in the Liberty A-League, surpassing the two-goal seasons she had in 2022-23 and 2021-22.

Phoenix’s ground-breaking win reveals something new

Every win is important, but some carry greater significance than others. The headline of Wellington’s defeat of Perth on Saturday was the fact that Phoenix had finally beaten Glory at the fifth time of asking.

But dig a little deeper – much like Phoenix themselves had to do in the second half – and it’s not hard to see why this result mattered.

Glory arrived in Wellington unbeaten and top of the table – you could see the confidence and self belief in them early on, even while Phoenix put the pressure on.

But the fact Phoenix then went a goal behind, regrouped to score twice in the second half – and then held on during a sustained barrage form Glory late on – told head coach Paul Temple a lot about his side, and the mental strength they are developing to complement their undoubtedly progressive brand of football.

MATCH REPORT: Phoenix break the ‘distance hoodoo’ to narrow gap at the top

“It’s a big result for us to beat Perth who were obviously flying high,” Temple said.

“I thought in the first half we played some really good football. We combined well…and I think we were just lacking in the final third – decision-making and a little bit of quality. But the first two thirds of the build-up was really good.

“Bit disappointed to go in [to halftime] down because it was our error that led to the goal, but that’s what happens when you play this way.

“We talked at halftime and felt like we had enough to come back out and win the game so it was nice to see that.

“We saw a different side of the performance in the last 20-30 minutes where we were strong, we were resolute, we didn’t really give away any big chances and we defended really well and sometimes you need that.”

Perth coach Alex Epakis didn’t sugarcoat the defeat – with the international break coming up, he made clear that there is some hard work to be done on the training ground.

“It’s a performance I didn’t really see coming,” he admitted. “So I’m a little taken aback. But as soon as we got in the dressing room afterwards we made clear we have to draw a line under that and I expect a reaction on the training ground.”

Numbers behind Okino’s drought breaking goal

It’s been a long time coming, but Kurea Okino finally scored her first goal in Melbourne Victory colours on Sunday afternoon.

Okino opened the scoring in Victory’s 2-1 win over Central Coast Mariners at the Home of the Matildas, ending her barren run in front of goal.

The Japanese striker had 20 shots without scoring a goal in the opening five games of the Liberty A-League season, the equal second-most amount of shots in the entire league behind leader Sophie Harding (21 shots).

VICTORY: Late drama as Victory claim stoppage-time win over Central Coast

But on the 23rd attempt, Okino finally had her moment.

“I think as a striker, the first thing you want is to grab your first goal,” Victory coach Jeff Hopkins said post-game.

“She’s off and running now and I think you could tell the whole team are really pleased with her.

“She worked really hard today. She closed down and was a big part of our defensive strategy.”

Her ruthlessness in-front of goal in NPLW Victoria with Boroondara Eagles put her on the radar of Victory this off-season, winning the Golden Boot with 31 goals to her name.

Hopefully, her first goal in Hopkins’ side can spark a similar confidence in Okino that saw her become one of the most deadly strikers in Victorian football history.

11th hour move sparks the Jets

The arrival of Sarina Bolden may be the missing ingredient in Newcastle’s push for finals football this season.

Bolden was sensational in her first game as a Jets player, scoring a brace in their 4-3 victory over Canberra United. The Philippines international’s arrival was only announced hours before kick-off at McKellar Park, adding even more firepower to an attack which is still yet to reach its full potential.

Melina Ayres has missed the last few games with injury, but her impending return to play alongside Bolden makes them one of the most potent attacking duos in the league. Before her injury, Ayres scored the winner in the F3 Derby, and fired home 12 goals last season at Melbourne Victory.

MATCH REPORT: Jets soar in seven-goal thriller thanks to star striker who only signed for club hours prior

“When you have Melina Ayres coming back into the team, they’re two different players so working out how to play with them together will take pressure off both attacking players,” Alicia Ferguson said on Dub Zone.

“Melina Ayres can score goals for fun, which is good because they offer something different to Newcastle, which means you can change the point of attack or the change the approach during the game if something isn’t working.”

Complimenting that, if Ayres returns after the international break, is Emily van Egmond who has two more games remaining in her four-game guest stint.

Van Egmond’s arrival has provided much-needed creativity in the final third, scoring two goals and tallying two assists in her two games so far.

The onus will be on the likes of Lara Gooch, Lauren Allan and Sophie Hoban to pick up where Van Egmond left off when she departs in December, but as A-Leagues commentator Teo Pellizzeri put it on the latest episode of Dub Zone, her impact long-term may be felt around the club.

“Van Egmond’s presence will be missed no doubt about it, but hopefully the likes of Gooch and Hoban, those attacking midfielders who can provide support will be able to feed that forward line,” Pellizzeri said.

“None of them are going to be able to do it like Van Egmond does, we know that, but hey they can still capitalise on her presence at training and setting standards and that leaves something behind for the rest of the season.”

Fascinating attacking alteration sparks brilliant City first half

Melbourne City coach Dario Vidosic made an intriguing alteration to his starting lineup for their clash with Sydney FC, opting to go with a completely different frontline.

Vidosic was without star attacker Holly McNamara – who will miss the remainder of the season after rupturing her ACL – but also opted to take Hannah Wilkinson out of the starting XI, replacing her with central midfielder Leticia McKenna.

By bringing in McKenna, it allowed Rhianna Pollicina to play closer to goal alongside the likes of Emina Ekic and Daniela Galic, in a much smaller, more fleet of foot attack instead of having a focal point up front in Wilkinson.

MATCH REPORT: City leap into first after holding on to victory against fast-finishing Sydney FC

City pinned Sydney inside their defensive half by winning the territory stakes (58% possession at the final whistle) and were rewarded with three first-half goals to seemingly put the result beyond doubt.

It will be fascinating to see whether this was a one move to tackle Sydney, or whether it is something we will see longer team, but either way it’s a testament to City’s attacking depth that they have the options to make such a move.

Their attacking depth will only be bolstered when young gun Caitlin Karic and Matilda Bryleeh Henry returns as well.

Vidosic, however, will be looking to use the international break to rectify their defensive fragilities, having been prone to conceding goals on the counter attack over the last few weeks.

City haven’t kept a clean sheet since Round 1, shipping two or more goals in each of the last four games they’ve played.