Melbourne City FC booked its spot in the Westfield W-League Grand Final, after Jess Fishlock’s strike secured a thrilling 1-0 extra time win over Canberra United on Sunday night.
Neither side could be separated after an action packed 90 minutes, but the Welsh midfielder’s well-placed strike in the second-half of extra time was enough to secure a memorable win in front of 5,072 fans at GIO Stadium.
Fishlock’s side produced an all-round display of fighting spirit, defensive steel and ruthlessness in attack to seal a second consecutive Grand Final berth.
Laura Alleway was immovable in the heart of defence, meeting every aerial challenge with force and decisiveness, while Lydia Williams came up big once again with two crucial saves to deny her former side in the dying stages of normal time.
But it had to be Fishlock who produced when it counted most for her team, reacting quickest to a Canberra clearance before slotting home expertly in the 107th minute to send her side all the way to the Final.
City will now have the opportunity to become the first team in Westfield W-League history to successfully defend its Championship crown against Perth Glory at nib Stadium next Sunday.
It took over 100 minutes of football to separate two heavyweights of the W-League; a mind-boggling fact considering how entertaining the opening half was.
Both sides carved out early goal-scoring chances, with City’s first coming in only the third minute, as Teigen Allen capitalised on an errant pass from Jenna McCormick, firing a shot which had Trudy Burke scrambling, but went wide of the post.
City monopolised possession and attacked at pace on the flanks through the enterprising Steph Catley, who whipped in a brilliant cross which was only millimetres away from finding Fishlock inside the penalty area.
The hosts soon worked themselves into the game and began to threaten in attack, with the pace of forwards Ashleigh Sykes and Jasmyne Spencer causing headaches on the break.
Sykes used her speed to draw a foul and yellow card from American defender Lauren Barnes after 10 minutes, with Canberra coming within inches of punishing City from the resulting set piece.
A looping header from Ochs beat Lydia Williams, but not Aivi Luik, who showed great awareness to track back and clear the ball off the line.
Barnes and Sykes were enjoying a fascinating duel as the American denied the Golden Boot winner with a superb last-ditch tackle, while Williams stood tall to deny Spencer with an outstretched leg, despite the offside flag.
City quickly regained momentum after the narrow escape and enjoyed a sustained period of pressure. A clever backheel from Rebekah Stott sent Jess Fishlock through on goal, who crashed her effort into the side netting.
The ascendency was firmly with City, who came almighty close to breaking the deadlock on the hour mark when Erika Tymrak lashed a stinging drive which beat Trudy Burke, but crashed against the crossbar.
The close shave sparked Canberra into action as Williams showed bravery to beat the ball away from the onrushing Spencer – and copped a knock to the arm for her troubles – while Och’s skied a golden opportunity over the bar, as both sides entered the break level.
The second half was a far tenser affair, especially with the prospect of extra time looming. Neither team wanted to slip up or make a mistake, given what was to play for.
Cue the heroics of Williams, who produced a string of brilliant saves to keep City in the contest, the first of which saw the Matildas goalkeeper race out expertly to smother the onrushing Spencer on the hour mark.
Williams came up massively once again in the dying stages, standing firm to deny a Canberra onslaught in a frentic end to normal time.
It was the moment City took the contest by the scruff of the neck. Fishlock was left wondering how she didn’t open the scoring in the first half of extra time when Trudy Burke produced a fantastic save to parry her effort on to the crossbar.
But City’s Interim Head Coach wasn’t to be denied, reacting first to a cleared corner before poking her effort past Burke and into the bottom corner to send City all the way to the final.
Westfield W-League – Semi Final
Sunday, 5 February 2017
Canberra United 0
Melbourne City FC 1 (Jess FISHLOCK 107’)
Kick-off time: 8:00pm (AEDT)
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Rebecca Durcau
Canberra United: 1. Trudy BURKE (GK), 2. Yukari KINGA, 5. Jenna McCormick (19. Nickoletta FLANNERY 93’), 8. Hayley RASO, 9. Jasmyne SPENCER (32. Lisa DE VANNA 78’), 10. Grace MAHER (7. Ellie BRUSH 78’), 12. Hannah BREWER, 13. Celeste BOUREILLE, 14. Ashleigh SYKES, 15. Emma CHECKER, 22. Stephanie OCHS
Substitutes not used: 20. Georgias BORIC (GK), 18. Kahlia HOGG
Yellow Cards: Brush 114', De Vanna 117'
Red Cards: nil
Head Coach: Rae DOWER
Melbourne City FC: 1. Lydia WILLIAMS (GK), 2. Teigen ALLEN, 3. Lauren BARNES, 5. Laura ALLEWAY, 6. Aivi LUIK, 7. Steph CATLEY (C), 10. Jess FISHLOCK, 11. Erika TYMRAK (15. Amy JACKSON 71’) 13. Rebekah STOTT, 16. Beverly YANEZ, 17. Marianna TABAIN (14. Melina AYRES 122’)
Substitutes not used: 20. Emily SHIELDS (GK), 19. Tyla Jay VLAJNIC
Yellow cards: Barnes 10'
Red cards: nil
Interim Head Coach: Jess FISHLOCK