Melbourne City star Holly McNamara scored two late goals in her side’s 3-2 win over Newcastle Jets on Sunday afternoon – but from the elation of a thrilling victory comes immediate injury fears for the recently-recalled Matildas winger.
McNamara bagged a brace to turn City’s 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in second-half stoppage time – however in the process of squeezing her second goal past out-rushing Jets goalkeeper Isobel Nino, succumbed to what appeared to be a knee injury, and was stretchered off the pitch after a lengthy delay.
The extent of the injury is not yet clear for the 20-year-old, who was named in Tony Gustavsson’s Matildas squad this week ahead of a pair of friendlies against Canada scheduled for early December.
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McNamara’s late brace came against a much-improved Jets outfit inspired by returning Matildas star Emily van Egmond who put one goal and one assist on the board in the first of four games back at her hometown club on a guest stint contract.
Van Egmond and Lara Gooch scored the first-half goals for Newcastle, after Daniela Galic’s early strike gave City a 1-0 lead. But the visitors dominated the second stanza, with McNamara’s goals turning defeat into victory and taking City level with league leaders Perth Glory on 13 points at the top of the table.
Just eight minutes into the game, City carved out a one-goal lead thanks to Galic’s thunderous volley from just inside the penalty area.
The goal came via a determined piece of wing play from Emina Ekic who drove down the left flank to find Kaitlyn Torpey with a cut-back cross. Torpey’s shot was deflected into the path of Galic whose first touch sent the ball looping through the air, dropping back down invitingly in her path to strike.
But the Jets looked a new team after falling behind and, buoyed by the telepathic attacking relationship between Van Egmond and Gooch, got well on the front foot to take a stranglehold of the game – and turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead by half-time.
Van Egmond’s strike on return to the Liberty A-League first got the Jets level – and the goal was one of the best team moves you’re likely to see all season.
It began on the left side of Newcastle’s defence, with Lorena Baumann showing balance and trickery to weave her way past Galic and Laura Hughes to find Van Egmond free in the centre of the park. Her pass set Gooch free down the left wing, whose first-time cross returned the ball to Van Egmond’s feet who had arrived at the back post for a first-time finish.
Just beyond the half-hour mark, Van Egmond and Gooch combined again to put Newcastle ahead. A close-range save from Jets keeper Nino prevented Galic from scoring her second for City, and the parry set up another rapid counter-attack for the Jets.
Van Egmond collected the ball on the turn inside her defensive penalty area, played the ball through the legs of Hughes before floating a long ball into an open paddock for Gooch to attack.
Gooch left the City defence in her dust as she collected the ball, sized up the target and drilled her shot into the bottom-left corner.
Van Egmond threatened to make it 3-1 shortly after the break with a fizzing right-footed strike from the edge of the box set up by – you guessed it – Gooch after ad riving run down the right wing. The resulting shot whipped just past the left-hand goalpost.
Then came a chaotic chance for City to peg one back down the other end; McNamara was looking increasingly dangerous down the right wing when she played Torpey in on goal for a shot from a narrow angle, saved by Nino but dropped in the goal mouth. Hannah Wilkinson attempted to pounce on the spillage but Nino got back to deprive the City spearhead.
With little more than 10 minutes left to play, the Jets were lulled into a false sense of security; just when it seemed the game was drifting to its conclusion, the visitors created a goal out of nothing when Galic’s well-placed cross to the front post was nodded over the head of Jets keeper Nino by the in-form McNamara to level the scores.
Then came the bittersweet winner for City.
Played in on goal by Ekic, McNamara took one touch to draw closer to goal, and with Jets keeper Nino sprawling at her feet, opened up her body to squeeze the ball into the bottom right corner.
McNamara reached for her leg in the immediate aftermath of making impact with the turf as the ball trickled into the back of the net.
McNamara was stretchered from the pitch soon after. City went on to secure all three points – but attention will now immediately turn to receiving an update on the health of their star winger.
The talking point
An injury scare for McNamara comes just one day after her recall to the Matildas squad for December friendlies against Canada.
The 20-year-old first turned heads on the international scene in January 2022 with a breakout performance at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup before rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) the following month. A recall came in March this year but McNamara has not been sighted in the Matildas frame since.
It’s too early to speculate the severity of the injury suffered in the moments after her match-winning goal against Newcastle Jets – but City fans, Matildas fans, and lovers of Australian football in general will be waiting with bated breath for an update on the flying winger who is absolutely storming through the early weeks of the Liberty A-League season with six goals from five appearances.
On tonight’s episode of Dub Zone, the Round 5 panel of Teo Pellizzeri, Matildas great Alicia Ferguson and Sydney FC legend Teresa Polias joined host Niav Owens to give their initial thoughts on the scenes they witnessed at No.2 Sportsground in Newcastle on Sunday afternoon.
“Concerning for Holly McNamara; it didn’t look great,” Ferguson said.
“I think a couple of things: Holly’s reaction when she went down, and just the fact there was no contact as well. She played the ball past the goalkeeper, she landed, it looked like there was a little twist and no contact there… I’m really wishing Holly all the best for that injury, I hope it’s not too sinister. But a big loss for Melbourne City.
“She scores all manner of goals. She scores one-against-ones, she scores headers, she’s up and down the pitch. She’s got so much energy. She’s going to be a big loss to City, she’s just an incredible player and she has so many hard challenges against her because she has that pace. She faces up, she runs at the opposition and makes it difficult for them – and they have to challenge her, they can’t keep up.”
Pellizzeri labelled McNamara’s latest injury scare as “horrendous luck” as the incident occurred under no contact.
“ACL at 15, foot stress fractures at 17 and an ACL which we all saw when she was playing for Melbourne City (in 2022) the season before last,” said Pellizzeri of McNamara’s injury record. “She’s already missed so much football and so much time, but when she plays she’s incredible.
“She had ridden two yellow card challenges in the game, she was targeted physically by Newcastle and yet it’s non-contact, it’s horrendous luck, and it’s left everyone, including myself, frankly feeling really flat.”
“Just seeing her reaction was heartbreaking,” added Polias.
“Our thoughts are with Holly. It’s never nice to see that. As a player who has done that before you can see in her reaction maybe she knew. Hopefully it’s not as serious, and we know she’s bounced back before from serious injury so we know we’re going to see her again.”
McNamara may have stolen the show late in the game, but prior to the City winger’s match-winning exploits came a brilliant display from fellow Matildas star Emily van Egmond, whose first-half exploits set the tone for a much-improved Newcastle Jets performance.
Van Egmond’s equalising goal at 1-1 came with a pointed message to the rest of the Jets squad; she gathered the team in a huddle and raised a finger to her temple, urging her teammates to show a fighting mentality.
And fight they did.
A sensational assist from the Matildas midfielder set Gooch up for the second and set the tone for a stirring Jets performance in the first half; City took the ascendancy after the break, leading to a late collapse by the Jets when McNamara showed the best of her qualities as one of the best attacking talents in Australia.
But from defeat comes encouraging signs for the Jets, who will look to continue to get the most out of Van Egmond through her four-game guest stint
What it means
McNamara’s late brilliance turned zero points into three for City – and send Dario Vidosic’s side onto 13 points from five games, level with Perth Glory at the top of the table. Glory sit in first with a superior goal difference, but the two teams now boast identical records (W4, D1, L0) heading into Round 6.
For the Jets, the presence of Van Egmond was a clear boost to their fortunes, and with just three games left of her guest contract, it’s imperative they make the most of it moving forward. Just four points after five rounds leaves the Jets in ninth place on the table, with Canberra United, Sydney FC and Western United the next three opponents on the agenda.