By Josh Parish
Brisbane Roar have climbed to second in the W-League table, dispatching Melbourne City 3-2 in a thrilling contest at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon.
The Roar had their Matildas stars to thank going into halftime – a header from captain Clare Polkinghorne and a penalty from Emily Gielnik giving the visitors a commanding lead.
City fought back to 2-2 in the second half with a deflected goal from Alex Chidiac and a penalty from Samantha Johnson, but a stunning strike from winger Mariel Hecher in the 75th minute was a worthy winning goal in an absorbing game.
Melbourne City began with their star-studded back three all available for the first time this season; Jenna McCormick returning from concussion to start alongside Emma Checker – still working her way to fitness from a broken foot – and US import Johnson. Rhali Dobson has been trialled at right wing-back in preseason, and was deployed in that new role ahead of Teigen Allen. Chinatsu Kira was preferred at the point of the attack to Harriet Withers, with Matilda Alex Chidiac and Hollie Palmer in support.
Jake Goodship, meanwhile, named an unchanged Roar XI from the side that thrashed Melbourne Victory 6-0, with Matildas attackers Emily Gielnik and Tameka Yallop continuing to spearhead the attack. Katrina Gorry, meanwhile, continues to be absent through injury.
City had a strong shout for a penalty turned down in the 4th minute, as McCormick appeared to be dragged back in the box by Gielnik after a set piece.
Brisbane came close to a 21st-minute breakthrough when Yallop found Gielnik with a low delivery from the left, but Gielnik’s effort was smothered by an agile Teagan Micah.
The Roar wouldn’t have to wait long for their goal, however, as Jamilla Rankin’s 23rd-minute corner found captain Clare Polkinghorne at the back post, and the stalwart central defender powered her header into the bottom corner.
The visitors claimed a second from the penalty spot in the 30th minute, after Yallop’s shot was handled by Johnson. Gielnik stepped up from 12 yards and sent Micah the wrong way to claim her 3rd of the season.
Gielnik had a gilt-edged chance to make it three in the 33rd minute, but failed to properly connect with Winonah Heatley’s cross. Moments later, she forced Micah into a terrific save with a curling effort from outside the box.
City responded immediately in transition, with Dobson finding Kira on the break, but the Japanese international’s left-footed drive was acrobatically tipped away by Georgina Worth.
Brisbane continued to dominate proceedings, with Yallop pouncing on a poorly taken throw-in to go through one on one with Micah, but the City goalkeeper came up big again. The home custodian was left scrambling soon after as Gielnik’s mis-hit cross crashed off the crossbar.
Dobson seemed City’s most energetic attacking outlet in the first half, and the wing-back tried to do it all on her own in the 42nd minute, cutting inside onto her left foot and unleashing from 30 yards. Her looping strike had Worth beaten, but came back off the crossbar, and Kira failed to control the rebound.
Whatever Jake Goodship told his players at halftime, it seemed no one was listening. Brisbane immediately gave a goal back, with Worth’s goal kick intercepted by Kira, and Chidiac’s shot from the edge of the box taking a massive deflection off Polkinghorne on its way in.
Rado Vidosic had made evident tactical changes at the break, switching to a back four, and bringing on Tori Tumeth to play left back for Hollie Palmer. Checker moved out to right back, with Dobson and TJ Vlajnic pushed higher up the flanks in a 4-2-3-1.
Yallop was twice collected by McCormick in 50-50s, the challenges coming either side of halftime. The attacking midfielder battled through the pain, however, forcing Micah into another good save in the 66th minute, after excellent work from Sharn Freier on the left flank.
Striker Harriet Withers made her entrance off the bench in the 69th minute, replacing Norwegian holding midfielder Noor Eckhoff, with Chidiac moving deeper into midfield.
City should have had their equaliser in the 71st, with substitute Tumeth slipping in Kira, but her shot was straight at the Roar goalkeeper.
But the home side would have a penalty of their own seconds later, as Chidiac was first to a half-cleared corner. The Matilda was sandwiched by Olivia Chance and Mariel Hecher, and referee Casey Reibelt had no hesitation. Defender Johnson surprisingly stepped up to take it, and the American confidently sent Worth the wrong way to complete the comeback.
City should have been ahead immediately, but Vlajnic couldn’t keep her half-volley down after Worth saved from Kira.
And the home side would be made to pay straight away, as Yallop fed Hecher down the right hand side of the area. The winger would go from villain to hero in an instant having given away the spot kick, launching a first-time shot across goal from an acute angle, which crashed off the far post and into the back of the net.
The result leaves City languishing in 7th place, with their next fixture in doubt due to Perth’s Covid-19 enforced lockdown. Brisbane, meanwhile, are sitting pretty in 2nd – albeit with teams below them having games in hand – and the stars in the squad seem to be finally starting to align.