Western Sydney Wanderers caused the upset of the A-League Women’s season to date on Sunday afternoon, downing the high-flying Melbourne City 2-0 at Wanderers Stadium to record their first win of the season.
Goals from young Matildas star Sheridan Gallagher and midfield lynchpin Olivia Price secured the Wanderers’ first victory in nearly a year, while City was left to rue a missed opportunity to return to the top of the ladder.
There was little in the opening period of the game to indicate what was to come, with Melbourne dominating possession and Western Sydney holding it at bay.
Yet it was the Wanderers who created the first real chance in the eighteenth minute, with Price dragging a left foot shot wide of the post when clean through on goal after an errant City pass.
City was still well on top but struggling to create a clear opening of their own, and it was clear that the absence of leading scorer Emina Ekic was affecting their fluency in front of goal.
The on-loan American striker suffered a fractured fibula in last week’s victory over Perth, and her subsequent return to parent club Racing Louisville has left a gap for the Melbourne side to fill up front.
Melbourne City captain Rhianna Pollicina was doing her best to compensate, hitting a free-kick just over the bar in the 35th minute, before the Wanderers took the lead against the run of play.
After some neat interplay created space on the edge of the City area, young Matilda captain Sheridan Gallagher hit a speculative shot that deflected off a City defender and looped over goalkeeper Sally James into the City net.
It was the break that Western Sydney needed to give themselves confidence, and they went into half-time with a spring in their step and a one-nil lead.
If City thought they might steamroller their out-of-form opponents in the second half, that notion was quickly eradicated when Gallagher thundered into the first challenge of the second period, leaving City captain Pollicina sprawled in a heap.
It was a statement of intent from the Wanderers, who then proceeded to create chance after chance over the next half hour.
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Filipino international forward Sarina Bolden, a recent signing from Japanese side Saitama, was particularly to the fore during this period, having a shot blocked by City’s Kiwi defender Katie Bowen in the 51st minute, before volleying just over the bar moments later.
The opportunities kept coming for a rampant Western Sydney side, with Bolden placing a free header wide from Amy Harrison’s free kick.
The Wanderers were not to be denied for long, however, with midfield playmaker Price hitting an unstoppable right-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area to secure a decisive second goal.
City was shellshocked, and although they tried to wrestle the momentum back by bringing on winger Julia Grosso and experienced defender Emma Checker, the red and black tide was relentless.
The electric Bolden was causing havoc in City’s backline with her intelligent runs between the lines, and she could have added to the Wanderers’ goal tally on more than one occasion.
First blazing over from a wide position after an impressive through ball from Bethany Gordon in the 65th minute, and then hitting the bar with a superb effort ten minutes later, Bolden did everything but score in a fine debut.
City was still able to maintain their dominance of possession, but Katie Bowen’s strike from distance on the 78th-minute mark was all they had to show for it. The fact it was their first effort on target in the half told the story.
The Wanderers were understandably displaying a few nerves in the falling stages after such a long time without a win, but they managed to see out the game and fully deserved their 2-0 victory, which was also head coach Kat Smith’s first win in the A-League Women’s competition.
Smith will be buoyed by her team’s determination and counter-attacking prowess, and the signing of Bolden already looks like an inspired one.
For City, it was a painful reminder that not everything in football goes to plan. Now they must regroup in time for next weekend’s Melbourne Derby with arch-rivals Melbourne Victory.
Although still within touching distance of the top two, how City replace the goals of Ekic will be sure to feature in the head coach Dario Vidosic’s thoughts in the coming few days.
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