Defence wins titles and contender for most underrated player in the league: Liberty A-League R22 talking points

Join Niav Owens, Grace Gill and Teo Pellizzeri for this week's episode of Dub Zone, featuring special guest and Central Coast Mariners star Kyah Simon

These are the big talking points after Round 22 in the Liberty A-League as Melbourne City clinched the Premier’s Plate in a thrilling final round of action which also saw the Jets fire off a finals warning to their rivals.

FINALS SECURED: Fixtures locked in for Liberty A-League finals series: What you need to know

Defence the key for City after leapfrogging Sydney to win dramatic Premiership race

Melbourne City are your Liberty A-League Premiers for 2023-24 after beating Perth Glory 2-1 on the final day of the season to snatch the Premier’s Plate away from Sydney FC.

Goals from Rhianna Pollicina and Shelby McMahon got the job done for Dario Vidosic’s side over in Western Australia with City knowing a win would be enough to see them clinch their third Premiership, and their first since 2020.

But while CIty’s mantra throughout the season has been to play attacking football wherever and whoever they play, their impressive run to the finish line has seemingly been built on defensive resilience.

“That Tameka Lala goal there is only the second goal they’ve conceded since January,” said Liberty A-League commentator and Dub Zone analyst Teo Pellizzeri. “It’s two (goals conceded) in seven games… they were a minute away from keeping six clean sheets out of seven!

He continued: “Which for Melbourne City, who were in shootouts and real ding-dong battles for the first half of the season, it shows that they’ve adjusted.

“Without the dynamism of Holly McNamara there leading the attack and being able to outscore their opponents, now they look like a different team.”

MATCH REPORT: PREMIERS! Melbourne City pull off final day heist after skipper’s moment of ‘absolute class’

With an international window on the horizon, City now have the luxury of having three weeks rest given their newly attained status of Premiers means they get to avoid the elimination finals – but could that break potentially act as a momentum killer?

“That’s always the question when you go into this space,” said Dub Zone analyst Grace Gill. “I think it’s (the break) a benefit in the sense of if any player is nursing any sort of knock or injury concern you get that time – but you want momentum.

“You want to keep ticking over at training. Whether they organise some internal friendly matches, they’ve got to keep turning over their legs because they need that going into finals.”

Jets turn on the afterburners to blow Adelaide away with statement win

They may have required a helping hand when it came to sealing finals football but there’s no doubt Newcastle Jets are capable of beating anyone in the Liberty A-League this season.

Their thumping 8-0 win over Adelaide coupled with the Wanderers’ 2-0 loss to Wellington saw the Jets book their spot in the finals in emphatic fashion and the Dub Zone panel believe Ryan Campbell’s team have got the weapons to take down any side.

“The most amazing thing about it is they scored eight and Sarina Bolden didn’t have to score one!” said Liberty A-League commentator and Dub Zone panelist Teo Pellizzeri.

“Yes she had three assists but I think this (result) showed there were many avenues to goal for Newcastle… once the tap was on it did not go off.

He continued: “In the second half we saw Melina Ayres come in but before that Lara Gooch was back from Young Matildas in fantastic form, Lauren Allen – arguably the most underrated player in the league and continuing her sensational form with goals in three games in a row.

“This was a real showcase of everything that can go right from a Newcastle point of view.”

Former Matilda and Dub Zone analyst Grace Gill added: “This is a Newcastle Jets team firing on all cylinders. I think when you’ve got so many different goal scorers, that is such a hard prospect to defend against.

“You can’t just focus on one player and say well ‘we’ve got to close down Melina Ayres or we’ve got to close down Sarina Bolden’ because if you close down those two, evidently, another player is going to score.”

Whilst all the attention was on the top end of the pitch for the Jets, newly installed second-choice goalkeeper Tiahna Robertson quietly excelled at the back having only recently joined the club as a replacement for the suspended Isobel Nino.

HISTORIC RESULT: 8-0! Newcastle’s biggest-ever win ignites finals charge as top-six battle goes the distance

Robertson made seven saves to keep Adelaide at bay in the clash at Coopers Stadium and with Nino still suspended for the Jets’ upcoming elimination final against Western United, her performance will have certainly reassured coach Ryan Campbell.

“What an occasion for Tiahna Robertson,” said Liberty A-League commentator Grace Gill. “Not just the 8-0 and the clean sheet, she kept them in the game because we saw a few of those shots, they weren’t easy saves.

“This is a keeper who signed on Tuesday, plays on Friday – what a debut!”

Victory roar into finals as Sky Blues crumble at the finish line

Not only have Melbourne Victory stormed into this season’s Finals Series with a 4-0 thumping of Premiership hopefuls Sydney FC but head coach Jeff Hopkins may also have found the tactical key to success.

Despite having shone of late in a central role, recalled Matildas forward Emily Gielnik was deployed on the right of a front three with Rachel Lowe operating through the middle, before Gielnik then switched back into the middle to provide the Sky Blues with another headache before ultimately killing off the game in the 64th minute.

“Em (Gielnik) was pushed centrally where she can be a great hold-up player and with her first touch in that position found the back of the net,” said former Matildas forward and Dub Zone analyst Grace Gill.

“Whether or not he (Hopkins) does it in the finals or still has the options, because he has the luxury of these players coming off the bench, changing things up.

Gill continued: “Em is such a good player down the wing as well and has the versatility of playing either centrally or out wide.”

Gielnik bagged Victory’s third goal of the game with what was her first action after returning to her more favoured central position and the tactical tweak certainly paid off for Hopkins as the Matilda combined brilliantly with the likes of Alex Chidiac, Beattie Goad and Rachel Lowe.

RED MIST: Shock Premiership twist as Matildas GK ‘lashes out’ in ‘huge moment’: ‘What are you doing?’

As for Sydney FC, Ante Juric’s side have seen the Premier’s Plate slip through their fingers in agonising fashion but they only have themselves to blame having lost back-to-back games against Canberra United and now Victory.

The question now is; can they build themselves back up in time to go again for their two-legged semi-final in a couple of weeks time, especially given their injuries at the back?

“I think they can recalibrate,” said former Liberty A-League striker Gill. “And I’d say especially so because Margaux Chauvet was probably the stand-out performer for Sydney FC in the left full back position.

“She’s really grown in stature across the course of the season so I think she’s a pretty good replacement (for the injured Kirsty Fenton). She got forward a lot which can leave Sydney a little vulnerable at the back in that space.

“But when you’ve got Charlotte Mclean, who had another decent game for the most part as well, I do think they’ve got the quality, they just need a little time evidently to reset, regroup and go again.”

Not that they’ll need nor want reminding of their end to the season but those two losses against Canberra and Melbourne Victory meant Sydney FC lost consecutive home and away games in the same season for the first time since February 2020!

Matilda loving life in Australia as Mariners return to finals football

14 years after last competing in the Liberty A-League the Central Coast Mariners have marched back into the competition and straight into the Finals Series.

Thursday night’s 1-1 draw with Western United coupled with results elsewhere ultimately meant the Central Coast dropped out of the top four and as such will now compete in a one-off elimination final against Melbourne Victory at the Home of the Matildas.

However Mariners and Matildas forward Kyah Simon believes that despite the vast majority of her teammates being young and somewhat inexperienced, their willingness to work hard makes them a match for anyone.

“If there’s one thing that I can say about the girls is that there’s buy-in and there’s the ability and willingness to work hard,” said Simon when speaking as a guest on Dub Zone.

“That’s day in, day out. No matter what challenges we’re faced with off the pitch, on the pitch, the girls are there to work hard, to learn and to want to excel and grow as a team.

“That’s what’s been so great for me to be able to come into a team with no big egos, just the willingness of the team to want to work together.

She continued: “Also, that receptiveness of taking on information, whether it be from us older players in more leadership roles, whether it’s the coaching staff, whatever that may be – I think that willingness and that eagerness to learn.

“I guess that really doesn’t put a lid on our potential and where we can take this season and that’s the exciting part about being part of this team.”

Still dealing with the after effects of an injury setback suffered during the Women’s World Cup, Simon took a while to get up to full speed upon returning to the Liberty A-League.

However with plenty of minutes and goal contributions now in her back pocket the 111-time Matilda is now feeling fit and ready to fire as she leads the Mariners back into finals football.

“Each week that goes by, each game that I get more minutes under my belt, the intensity that I can attack games at a little bit more, growing that confidence on the pitch in my body but also that confidence to play like I am and play freely.

“I think without even thinking about my body, I think that’s when I know when I’m at that point of being fit, firing and no hesitation and just being able to play freely – I’m definitely there or on the cusp of being there. Perfect timing with finals around the corner!”

Furthermore, Simon revealed her decision to return back to the Central Coast Mariners from WSL side Tottenham Hotspur has helped reaffirm the important things in life.

“Being here at home, being on the coast, being part of a club that values me as a player and having my loved ones surrounding me – it’s really been the best formula that that I’ve needed coming off such a difficult 15 months.”

She continued: “Trusting my body, enjoying being back in Australia, being in warm weather I think it’s really opened my eyes up to the things that are most important to me and I guess given me a really fresh mindset.”