Sydney FC claim A-League Women championship after defeat of Melbourne City

The irrepressible Sydney FC have beaten Melbourne City 1-0 to claim a record fifth A-League Women championship, and their second in a row.

Premiers City dominated possession but super-sub Shea Connors struck in the 69th minute, brilliantly assisted by teen sensation Indiana Dos Santos, to send the Sky Blues into ecstasy.

Both teams were on four titles heading into Saturday’s clash at AAMI Park in Melbourne, which took place in front of 7671 fans.

It was the second-highest grand final attendance ever, after the 9519 in Sydney last year.

Sky Blues midfielder Mackenzie Hawkesby was named player of the match.

City right-back Bryleeh Henry was superb and Julia Grosso shut down Matildas star Cortnee Vine, while Sydney FC defenders Charlotte Mclean and Jordan Thompson kept the dangerous Hannah Wilkinson quiet.

The Melbourne side suffered a blow before the game, with goalkeeper Barbara ruled out with a quad strain.

Veteran Melissa Barbieri stepped in, with Emily Shields signed late as a back-up.

Despite her 27-year professional career and more than 80 caps for the Matildas, it was Barbieri’s first start in a grand final.

She made a sharp one-handed save to deny Thompson inside the opening minute, while her Sydney counterpart Jada Whyman was also called into action early to deny Wilkinson.

In the 11th minute, City teenager Daniela Galic bamboozled multiple Sydney defenders but her tame close-range effort was easily claimed by Whyman.

The Sky Blues almost pinched a goal at the end of the half after Stott slipped and Hawkesby pounced, but the Sydney midfielder attempted to pass rather than shoot and Henry recovered to clean up.

In the 64th minute it was City’s turn to go close, Taylor Otto dragging a shot wide of the far post.

Sydney skipper Princess Ibini set a record by playing in her eighth decider, but made way for Connors in the 67th minute – and it proved a master stroke from coach Ante Juric.

Two minutes later, a poor Rebekah Stott header fell to Shay Hollman, who worked the ball to Dos Santos.

The 16-year-old pulled off a wonderful pass to find Connors, who beat City’s defence for pace, burst forward and struck a first-time shot past Barbieri.

Dario Vidosic’s City spurned multiple good chances to equalise and were left to rue what might have been.

Hughes shot over the bar in the 79th minute, and Leticia McKenna appeared destined to score four minutes later only to be denied by a Hollman clearance over the bar.

Rhianna Pollicina should have levelled the tie in the 84th minute after a Whyman clearance fell to her, but with the goal beckoning she blasted over the bar.

Check out how the game unfolded in our liveblog below.

Key events

So long, glorious Dub

Well, it’s been an epic season. The first home-and-away season in A-League Women history, record-breaking attendances and broadcast audiences, all in the afterglow of that incredible Women’s World Cup.

I’ll have plenty more to say about how Sydney’s incredible win tonight speaks to these bigger trends and themes, but for now, it’s time to say goodbye to what has been a sensational season of Dub.

Thank you all so much for joining me on the blog today, and I’ll be seeing you again when the Matildas take on China at the end of the month.

Until then – GO SYDNEY! And cyas!

Post-game scenes

The podium has been erected on the field, with a big blue arch set up nearby behind a CHAMPIONS sign.

Sydney FC midfielder Mackenzie Hawkesby is named Player of the Match for an immense effort. She really has been the saviour of Sydney’s season in so many ways, so it’s fabulous to see her recognised.

The players of Melbourne City are now filing acrss the stage to receive medals and shake hands with a couple representatives of the A-Leagues.

They’re all looking absolutely shattered, as you’d expect. Some were in tears after the final whistle. To have come so far but have fallen short right on the brink of history has gotta hurt.

It’s the Sydney players’ turns now. They’re all wearing scarves, which they wrap around the necks of the young girls who’ve been recruited from a local club to hand out their medals.

There’s a small but vocal group of hardcore Sydney fans down one end of the field waving banners and scarves and singing for their players. Great effort from them all to travel down to watch their team defend their championship title.

Analysis corner with Big Ben

A really enjoyable match of tactics – nuts at the start as someone tried to get the early advantage – no deal. Then all tensed up for remainder of first half. Then in the second the tactical difference I think was Sydney subbing when they wanted, and Melbourne City subbing when they needed. Melbourne cracked, which lit things up nicely for the rest of the (oddly long) time. Well done ALW. Well done Sydney. Well done Connors, Well done Sam and thank you 🙂

– Big Ben

Great summary of the match here from Ben, one of the blog’s regulars.

I think you’re spot-on, Ben. The timing of Sydney’s substitution of Connors was definitely key, whereas it looked like City were maybe hedging their bets on the game going to extra-time and wanting fresh legs.

But it came back to bite ’em almost immediately.

Your reactions (to my mum??)

Drinks are on Sandye tonight! 😊🏆🍾🥂

– Leo

Sandeye….golf champ…one eyed Sky Blue…and Samantha’s Mum…some people have all the luck!!!

– stumcin

Final thoughts

As soon as the whistle blew, Sydney FC’s entire bench ran out onto the field in a dark blue wave of noise and flailing arms.

It’s almost unbelievable that they’ve won this considering the stats of this game: 28% possession, just 3 shots on target, and only one corner.

This wasn’t about trying to play football, though. This was about trying to find a single moment and capitalising. And when Melissa Barbieri mis-timed her sprint off the line, allowing Shea Connors to squeeze the ball beneath her legs, that was all the moment Sydney FC needed.

From there, it was bunkering in and trying to survive the storm of a City side who realised, finally, that they were playing in a grand final, and that grand finals require something else than what got them the premiership.

They tried – god knows, they tried – and those final, endless minutes of extra time were panic-stations, throwing everything they could at a team that had defended so brilliantly all game, trying to create moments of their own.

They had some, but the players who you’d usually expect to grasp them – Rhianna Pollicina, Emina Ekic, Laura Hughes – tonight, simply, couldn’t.

By the end, it was the team who’s battled through wars of their own, who weathered the ups and downs of the whole season and came out the other side champions.

Sydney FC can now lay claim to being the most successful team in A-League Women history. A fifth championship to match their five premierships. And they did it, this season, with the youngest team in the league. Is there any team who will ever be able to do what they’ve done again? I doubt it.

My mum won golf AND her team won the Dub grand final

the double!! woo hoo! well done SFC!

– Sandye

She’s your lucky charm, Sydney fans!!!

FULL-TIME: SYDNEY FC WIN 1-0!

THE SKY BLUES DEFEND THEIR A-LEAGUE WOMEN CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE!

96′ Everyone’s up!

City’s formation is basically a 5-4-1, having thrown as many as they can risk forward to try and find a last-ditch equaliser.

But the final pass just isn’t there. They’ve sent dozens of corners into Sydney’s penalty area, but none of them have been met by a team-mate. They’ve tried to squeeze and wriggle and pass their way through and behind and around, but they just can’t find someone to twist the final knife.

One thing’s for sure: this has been a hell of an impressive mature performance by Sydney. The youngest team in the league, a team that wasn’t favoured to take this out, but who, somehow, find themselves on the brink of a fifth championship title.

93′ Crash-and-bash

Melbourne City are running out of ideas. Sydney’s dark blue wall has held firm all game, anchored by the excellent Jordan Thompson and Charlotte McLean, and they just haven’t been able to find a crack.

So they’re just throwing themselves at Sydney’s players now. Taylor Otto isn’t a centre-back anymore, she’s a miscellaneous midfielder, using her height and strength to try and crash her way through Sydney’s defence.

It’s route-one balls from City at this point, over the top or through, just trying to create any possible half-opening that they could swing a hopeful foot at.

But Sydney are holding. And holding. And holding. Sometimes, they nick the ball away to a Cortnee Vine or a Mackenzie Hawkesby, who pump their tired legs to try and move it away from their own goal. But mostly they’re just sitting deep and trying to protect this lead.

9 minutes of added time

Where the HECK did that come from!?

Who cares! It’s time for chaos.

88′ City keep coming!!

Now we have a game…Melbourne City are throwing the kitchen sink!

– stumcin

Sydney FC need to be careful going into the late stages of the game, Melbourne City are desperate for the equaliser and will no doubt capitalise on any and every chance they get.

– Adam

Wave after wave of attack as they try to equalise!

Sydney are scrambling – trying to hold their nerve, stay calm and structured – but a single wrong step or bad decision could spell the end.

City are slicker now, faster, sharper in their angles and movements.

Galic nips the ball away from a sloppy Abbey Lemon and dinks it back over Whyman’s diving hands, trying desperately to find Emina Ekic at the back post, but it flies just over her leaping ponytail.

The crowd is up now, getting louder, trying to push the home side on. The minutes are slipping away. There’s not long left to keep their double hopes alive.

85′ Chance City!!

The home side attack again with some strong individual work from Daniela Galic in the box, slipping the ball through three Sydney defenders to McKenna on the right wing.

She clips a cross backwards, over the top of Sydney’s pack of defenders, and although Whyman gets a glove to the ball to slap it away, it falls right to the feet of Rhianna Pollicina.

She has nobody around her – she just needs to wait for the ball to fall perfectly – but her eventual shot flies over the crossbar instead.

She puts her head in her hands. That was the biggest chance she’s had all night. Should have buried it.

83′ CHANCE CITY!

OH MY GOODNESS!

The resulting free-kick is beautifully dipping towards the back post, and falls perfectly to Leticia McKenna.

The substitute takes a touch inside onto her left foot and rifles a shot towards goal.

Jada Whyman is already flying across to stop it but the ball is going above her, but Shay Hollman leaps into the air and heads it right over the crossbar.

The young midfielder celebrates like she’d scored. She just prevented an almost-guaranteed equaliser. Incredible.

82′ Yellow card Sydney

Tori Tumeth got turned around by Daniela Galic near the sideline and, in response, the Sydney defender just clambers into the City teenager and the two tumble into the ground.

It looks like Tumeth slipped slightly in the turf, but the referee didn’t see it, instead giving her the second yellow card of the game.

Galic is furious, she stands over Tumeth intimidatingly as a team-mate tries to get in the way to stop it from getting any more heated.

The players disperse to get ready for the free-kick.

79′ Chance City

Rhianna Pollicina almost breaks through Sydney’s defensive line, but Charlotte McLean does well to scramble back and sling a leg in the way to scoop the ball away from the City midfielder.

But it’s not quite enough and it falls straight to (I think) Laura Hughes, who cuts inside and takes a few steps towards the top of the box before rocketing a shot well over the crossbar.

78′ City 0 – 1 Sydney

There’s some chat in the media box about who’s been the Player of the Match.

It’s been a tough one considering this has been an arm-wrestle of a game, with neither team really having any clear stand-outs.

Daniela Galic has shown flashes of brilliance for City, but Sydney have been really sturdy in midfield with Mackenzie Hawkesby and Shay Hollman in particular.

Who do you reckon has been the MVP so far, team? Help us do the votes.

77′ City substitution

Leticia McKenna comes on for Hannah Wilkinson.

Official attendance: 7,671

It’s the second-highest crowd for an A-League Women grand final in history, though you’d have to think it should have been much higher considering some of the numbers we’ve seen throughout the season.

Your goal reactions!

Brilliant substitution! Great ball from Indiana! ⚽️😊

– Leo

Through pass on target! Neatly done, smart subbing.

– Big Ben

What a time to score your first goal for the season….We got Connors… Super Shea Connors!

– stumcin

GOALLL!!!!!! Yes!!!!!

– M

72′ City win a corner

The home side have sprung to life and immediately are on the counter, trying to equalise.

Hannah Wilkinson, who’s not done heaps this half, is suddenly up and about, dancing through Sydney’s defenders towards the by-line before clipping a ball off Jordan Thompson for a corner.

The ball is taken short and swung back in towards Jada Whyman, who’s crowded out by a couple players, and the ball bounces off a Sydney head before she scrambles to clutch it in her gloves.

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