Melbourne City have hung on to record a 3-2 win over a fast finishing Sydney FC on Sunday afternoon, jumping into top spot on the Liberty A-League table heading into the international break.
City – who took the field for the first time since losing star attacker Holly McNamara to a season ending knee injury – were absolutely ruthless going forward in the first-half, opening up a three-goal lead before half-time at Sydney Olympic Park Athletic Centre.
Julia Grosso opened the scoring and Emina Ekic’s ‘Olimpico’ struck direct from a corner doubled their lead, before Daniela Galic curled home City’s third.
New Sydney signing Jordan Thompson brought one back for the reigning Liberty A-League double winners, but their momentum was seemingly cut short by a 30 minute delay due to lightning within 10 kilometres of the venue immediately after the goal.
When play resumed, Charlotte McLean brought one back to set up a grandstand finish, but City withstood the late pressure from the Sky Blues to come away with the win – their first away to Sydney since December 2019.
City go into the international break undefeated from six games and top of the Liberty A-League standings with 16 points, while Sydney languish in ninth, albeit with two games in hand and Cortnee Vine and Kirsty Fenton hopefully not too far away from returning from injury.
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Dario Vidosic tinkered his attack to cover the loss of McNamara, handing a first start to Emina Ekic and dropping Hannah Wilkinson to the bench.
Immediately, City were a threat in transition against an under-strength Sydney defence, and they opened the scoring after 23 minutes. Rhianna Pollicina’s pass took a deflection into the path of Grosso, who hit the ball sweetly first-time from just inside the penalty area and past Jada Whyman into the bottom corner.
City doubled their lead eight minutes later in style, as Ekic’s corner was caught in the wind, beating a sprawling Whyman and nestling in the side of the net at the back post.
Sydney’s best chance fell to Fiona Worts as the first-half came to an end, but the in-form striker was unable to divert her chance on target, firing over the crossbar.
And City made them pay minutes later. Pollicina broke in behind the Sydney defence and had her effort cleared off the line by Tori Tumeth, but back into the path of Galic who expertly curled the ball into the top corner.
Sydney needed to respond after half-time and they did accordingly, as both Tumeth and Shea Connors forced good saves from Lysianne Proulx.
Although their good work out of the blocks was almost quickly undone, with both Taylor Otto and Laura Hughes having chances cleared off the line in the space of mere seconds.
The Sky Blues managed to finally get one back. Taylor Ray’s long-range shot fell at the path of Thompson, who fired into the back of the net, only hours after her signing was announced by the club this afternoon.
All the momentum from Thompson’s goal seemingly went down the drain, as lightning within 10 kilometres of the venue saw the match commissioner call for a 30 minute delay in the contest.
But when play resumed, Sydney roared back to life once more, as Charlotte McLean’s long range shot was turned into the back of the net with the help of a deflection, with around 10 minutes remaining.
The talking point
Melbourne City came out with a point to prove on Sunday afternoon.
Without Holly McNamara for the first time this season, Dario Vidosic’s attack looked just as lethal, with the likes of Emina Ekic, Rhianna Pollicina, Daniela Galic and co causing headaches all afternoon. Vidosic also had Hannah Wilkinson come off the bench, opting to go with a smaller, more fleet of foot front-line, which worked to perfection early in the contest.
City’s array of attacking options – even without McNamara – makes them still one of the teams to beat this season. A returning Caitlin Karic at some point this season will only add another string to their bow.
They only needed a half to put away the champions and it was exactly what the doctor ordered after a tough week.
Vidosic, however, does have cause for concern with their defence, that has not kept a clean sheet since Round 1 and conceded more than one goal in each of their last four games.
It’s easy to forget that Emina Ekic was one of the best players at the start of the Liberty A-League season last year.
But the American born, Bosnian international sent a timely reminder to the rest of the competition with a brilliant performance against Sydney. Ekic scored a brilliant ‘Olimpico’ to double City’s lead and caused all sorts of issues throughout the game for Sydney’s defence.
It was her second start since returning to the club, having also tallied an assist in their win over Newcastle Jets last week.
In six games last season, Ekic scored four goals and helped herself to an assist, a spell which was cut short due to a knee injury in December. Her return was supposed to provide a brilliant one-two punch with McNamara, but now that the latter is out, Ekic is set to be leaned on more than ever to carry the attacking load.
And the 24-year-old looks up for the task.
What it means
Melbourne City go into the international break at the top of the Liberty A-League standings, as a result of Perth Glory’s defeat to Wellington Phoenix on Saturday and their win over Sydney.
Dario Vidosic’s side sit three points clear of Glory, who they face in a blockbuster clash on December 9 at City Football Academy after the international break.
It will be another good test for City, given Alex Epakis’ side will be raring to get back on the winners list after their defeat to the Phoenix. They played out a seven-goal thriller late last season, so don’t be surprised if this contest follows a similar script.
Meanwhile, the international break comes at a good time for Sydney after a hectic November schedule. Ante Juric’s side have battled a difficult travel schedule as a result of their trip to Uzbekistan for the AFC Women’s Club Championship, but also a myriad of injuries – including Cortnee Vine, Kirsty Fenton and Nat Tobin.
Sydney were jumped out of the blocks by City, with their injury-hit defence struggling to cope with the ferocity of the visitors attacks. To their credit, they bounced back brilliantly after half-time and were perhaps unlucky not to get at least a point.
They currently sit in ninth on the table, a point outside the top six going into the break, but have two games in hand.
Their next match is against the Newcastle Jets at No.2 Sportsground on December 10, who are fresh off a big win against Canberra United.