27/02/2024

Canberra United gave up three points in Melbourne City in its season opener. (Photo: Canberra United/Twitter)

After a rusty performance on opening weekend, how can Canberra United gel for its first away trip of the 2021/22 A-League Women season?

The romance of Canberra United’s Friday night season opener quickly faded as City youngster Holly McNamara’s right-footed strike curled to the top of the far post and sailed past keeper Keeley Richards.

It was her first A-League Women goal, and jubilation for the City Blue visitors. But coming in the 80th minute, it was a kick in the guts for what was an overall rusty first up performance.

McNamara danced around right back Lauren Keir and struck the ball with poise well beyond her years.

It stung in particular for Richards, who made nine saves across the 90 minutes and was accordingly named Canberra’s player of the match for her near flawless performance.

The club will have to quickly shift its focus to its first away trip of the season, coming up on Sunday against Adelaide United.

Richards closely studied the work of Melbourne Victory keeper Casey Dumont last week against the Reds, as she only conceded a single score from 20 shots in the 5-1 win.

She believes it doesn’t quite tell the full story of what is a potent Adelaide attack. The Reds found the net 22 times last season, with Chelsie Dawber (five goals) and Emily Condon (four goals) the main contributors.

“It’ll be interesting, I don’t think their result reflected quite how they played,” Richards told media mid-week.

“Casey [Dumont] had a great game in goals for Victory, and they had a fair few opportunities. We can’t by any chance take them lightly. We need to go out and perform better than we did this week.”

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Dawber and Condon only took four shots between them in their loss to Victory, with the former coming off the bench.

Richards knows however she’ll need to be at her best to stop them, and sole scorer Fiona Worts. The 25-year-old took eight shots, four of which were on target, and was a constant driving force in Adelaide’s front three.

“Personally, I know there’s a lot I know I need to work on,” Richards admitted.

“It’s nice to go out there [and play well], but that’s where the bar’s set, and I need to go above and beyond that as the season goes on.

“Obviously, disappointing result. We know we can play better as a team so we’ve just got to work on that and go one better next week.”

So, what went wrong?

Canberra was beaten in most major statistics by Melbourne City on Friday night, particularly in possession (losing 44 per cent to 56 per cent) and chances created (six to 16).

While Richards held firm between the posts, a reliance on new and less experienced players down back didn’t seem to do United many favours.

Emma Ilijoski was brilliant as always at left back, passing creatively and going on runs past the halfway line. She executed 23 accurate passes and two long balls while also dropping back defensively, with four clearances.

Ally Haran had a solid game in her first start as a centre back for United, but the positioning of Grace Maher and Lauren Keir were puzzling.

Keir has played across the defensive line in both fullback positions and as a centre back so far, playing all three across her 13 starts in 2020/21. She hasn’t quite seemed to settle in any, and that showed on Friday night.

Maher’s talents meanwhile shouldn’t be wasted near the goal line. She’s a brilliant holding midfielder that can create offensive play when needed, one of the most versatile young mids in the competition. NWSL import Chelsee Washington has taken up Maher’s post instead.

Richards, however, is backing her in to hold down the position in the coming weeks.

“It’s a different line up with Gracey [Maher] slotting in down back there, but she’s Grace Maher, she can play anywhere,” she said.

“Having that confidence in the backline along with Ally [Haran] in the centre back, it’s really reassuring for me as a keeper.”

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Similarly down back, the returning Karly Roestbakken earned her first call-up in Canberra colours since 2020 after her signing was announced just hours before kick off.

She admitted that she hadn’t played a full 90 minutes in 12 months post-match, but didn’t look too out of place.

“The first half we went out there and did really well, created a few chances. Probably should have put some of them away,” Roestbakken said.

“We were a bit tired in the second half. We gave them [Melbourne City] too much time, too much space, and maybe too much respect.”

The defender was just one of a bevvy of new faces that either returned or debuted for Canberra last weekend. Ash Sykes, Margot Robinne, Chloe Middleton, Washington, and Haran all made for a very new look side.

Speedy forward Holly Caspers was called off the bench after superstar striker Michelle Heyman came off limping midway through the second half.

It raises fresh injury concerns for what is already a very different looking team to last year which couldn’t convert or even create many chances, missing its top scorer.

Caspers and some of the younger brigade will be relied on more in their first A-League Women away trip.

“It’ll be interesting, it’ll be my first game where I’ve travelled interstate… in the A-League Women. I’m really, really excited for that,” she told media mid-week.

“I know Adelaide will come out strong, they had a disappointing loss on their end as well. It’ll be interesting to see what the result is. Hopefully we go out with our best team and perform well.”

Canberra United and Adelaide United kick off at 6:30pm AEDT on Sunday, December 12.

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