Catley strike seals Melbourne City's record fourth Westfield W-League Championship
Steph Catley struck the winner as Melbourne City edged Sydney FC, 1-0, to become the first Westfield W-League club to lift the Championship four times.
The undefeated Premiers capped a dominant season with a hard-fought win against the defending Champions, with the decisive moment arriving when the City captain’s left-wing effort was fumbled into her own net by Sky Blues keeper Aubrey Bledsoe with a quarter of an hour on the clock.
The American shot-stopper redeemed herself by blocking two Emily van Egmond shots before half-time but City’s rock-solid defensive line, who conceded only five goals in 14 matches all season, held firm to prevent the third-placed outfit from repeating history in a match played behind closed doors at AAMI Park due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Ante Juric’s team landed an upset Grand Final triumph on the road against Perth Glory in 2019 and they created problems for the favourites in the second half, with Veronica Latsko’s shot hacked off the goal-line by Ellie Carpenter – who excelled in defence and attack in a closely-contested affair.
Kyah Simon and Carpenter both threatened to extend City's lead with long-range efforts as the match wore on, while Sydney's best late chance fell to Princess Ibini but the substitute's well-struck attempt was superbly saved by Lydia Williams in the City goal to close out the clean sheet.
The triumph means Rado Vidosic’s side lift their fourth Championships in five years since their competition debut, keep their perfect record in Grand Finals, and win the race to four titles ahead of the three-time Champions from the Harbour City, who were making their seventh Grand Final appearance.
Bledsoe lets Catley’s shot slip through
With both teams unchanged from their semi-final triumphs, the Premiers enjoyed the bigger share of early possession but the defending Champions were more industrious with the ball, as Veronica Latsko cut inside Rebekah Stott and fired a second-minute effort over the crossbar.
Remy Siemsen was next up to take aim for Sydney, after collecting Sofia Huerta’s flick and charging past Emma Checker, but her curling effort was straight at Williams and Sky Blues skipper Teresa Polias’ drilled shot skewed off target on 11 minutes with City struggled to get going.
But Catley led the charge for City, sending a dangerous cross across the face of goal on 15 minutes and, moments later, the Westfield Matildas’ left-back saw her angled shot spilled into the back of the net by Bledsoe, as the hosts opened the scoring with their first attempt on goal.
Simon's looping cross crashes back off the crossbar
Despite the set-back, Sydney’s backline remained resolute and it took until 24 minutes for City to strike another effort on goal. This time Bledsoe redeemed herself by saving Emily van Egmond’s low, driven shot from outside of the area.
The American delivered again when van Egmond was played clean through on goal by Sydney FC defender Alanna Kennedy’s loose pass and Bledsoe came to the rescue to deny the City playmaker with an out-stretched foot at point-blank range.
With mistakes creeping into Sydney’s game, Polias lost possession and Kyah Simon struck a lofted effort which bounced back off the Sydney crossbar on 33 minutes but, two minutes later, City were looking vulnerable as Huerta’s cross bounced off Catley’s arm and penalty appeals for handball were waved away.
Carpenter to the rescue for City
Knowing their Championship hopes could be fading before their eyes, Sydney came out flying and full-back Ally Green sent Latsko streaming through on goal three minutes after the restart. Her shot was parried in the air by Lydia Williams and, with the ball heading goal-wards, Carpenter scrambled back to make the save and make the clearance away from the home side's net.
Simon a fraction away from making it two
City wrestled back control with the clock ticking towards the hour mark and beautiful combination play by Carpenter, Claire Emslie and Simon left the Westfield Matildas attacker through on goal but Simon’s fizzing strike flashed wide of the post on 57 minutes.
City keeper Williams comes up big to deny Ibini
With legs starting to tire in the final 30 minutes, Carpenter showed her dominance in attack, as well as defence, with a barnstorming run through the Sydney defence. The rampaging right-back fired a 20-yard strike at goal which required Bledsoe to react at full-stretch to fingertip the ball around the post.
With Carpenter causing more problems one the City right in the 70th minute, the ball made its way to van Egmond with her back to goal. The star forward hit a shot on the turn but Bledsoe flew across goal to the make the save and keep the Sky Blues’ hopes alive.
Sydney were raising the tempo in the last 10 minutes and it was Latsko’s surge on the left that finally parted the City defence. The American forward's pass found its way to substitute Ibini on the edge of the box. With the goal opening up, her firmly-hit effort forced a strong diving parry from Williams – a save which ultimately clinched the result and the trophy for City.