Melbourne City FC’s 2021/2022 A-League Women’s campaign may be over after a disappointing defeat in the Preliminary Final over the weekend, but Rado Vidosic’s side certainly has plenty to be proud of from a year in which they exceeded pre-season expectations.
Many pundits around the league predicted City to miss Finals or even finish well into the bottom half of the table. The team’s eventual second-placed finish that pushed eventual Premiers Sydney FC right up to the final round, was built on standout campaigns from exciting youngsters and complemented by a handful of equally impressive veterans.
The team’s 2021/22 began with a narrow 1-0 victory over Canberra United in which fans got their first glimpse of City’s standout youngster Holly McNamara, who netted the winner with a superb curling effort.
A close Melbourne Derby loss would follow in Round 2, but this sparked a run of four consecutive wins, including a Round 4 Derby rematch that finished 5-1 thanks to Hannah Wilkinson’s monstrous quintuple.
A second loss of the season came at the hands of eventual league winners Sydney FC as the team sorely missed some star players, but Vidosic’s side would again bounce back with a string of victories that culminated in a 2-1 win over the Sky Blues in a decisive rematch weeks later.
That result put City in a situation that defied pre-season expectations, with the team well in the hunt of winning a third Women’s Premiership if it could round out its season with three wins from three against bottom-half opposition.
However, a combination of injuries and player unavailability due to national team selection meant that a depleted City side would drop points against Brisbane Roar in Round 13, with the 1-0 loss handing the advantage back to Sydney.
A pair of 2-0 wins against Newcastle and Western Sydney saw the team put plenty of pressure on the Sky Blues to secure a positive result on the final day, but Sydney’s 1-0 victory over Adelaide saw them narrowly secure a second-consecutive Premiership by two points.
City, who entered the Finals Series in good form and with a near full-strength squad, with the exception of Holly McNamara who suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Round 12, would suffer a couple of heart breaking losses to Sydney FC (a.e.t) and Melbourne Victory.
Though City was impacted by losing players to national team duty during the season, the call-ups of Winonah Heatley and Holly McNamara to a Matildas training camp ahead of the Asian Cup was a proud moment for the Club. Whilst Heatley didn’t make the final Cup squad, McNamara was rewarded for her blistering start to her professional football career with a full Matildas debut against Indonesia.
Melissa Barbieri celebrated an incredible anniversary on February 7 which marked 25 years since making her Australian National League debut as a 16-year-old in 1997. At 41, Barbieri enjoyed a fantastic season between the sticks and was an inspirational leader for City’s young squad.
Another heart-warming storyline throughout the season was Rebekah Stott’s return to professional football after battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In her first appearance back in the A-League Women, Stott became City’s all-time leading appearance-maker, surpassing Steph Catley, and would go on to make her 100th league appearance in last Sunday’s Preliminary Final.
Perhaps the highlight of her season, however, was receiving a call-up to the New Zealand squad for the SheBelieves Cup in February, returning to the pitch as a Football Fern for the first time since her cancer diagnosis.
Off the pitch, Stott was recognised for her tireless work raising funds and awareness for blood cancer patients with the PFA (Professional Footballers Australia) awarding her the PFA Community Medal.
Stott’s re-writing of club history in Round 1 wasn’t the only major appearances milestone this season, with Tyla-Jay Vlajnic also bringing up a half-century of matches played in the City blue.
Breaking records was also a theme of Wilkinson’s debut campaign in Australia, with the Kiwi rocketing her way into equal-second on City’s all-time goalscoring chart alongside Larissa Crummer on 14 goals – a tally which also saw her surpass Crummer for the most goals scored in a single season. Wilkinson also broke league records, becoming the fastest player to 10 goals in A-League Women’s history when she achieved the feat in 10 games.
Together with McNamara and Rhianna Pollicina, Wilkinson spearheaded a lethal front three for City that made for entertaining viewing for fans throughout the season, with the trio accounting for 86% of the team’s goals scored. In order of total goal involvements, Wilkinson lead the way with 12 goals and two assists, Pollicina starred from midfield (and later, in the front three) with seven goals and three assists, whilst McNamara was influential with five and three in just 655 minutes played – that’s 1.1 goal involvements per 90!
It’s fitting then, to finish on that mention of McNamara’s impact given the youngster will a comprise a group of eight players who are already signed on with City for Season 2022/23. She will be joined by captain Emma Checker, who will likely finish the season as one of City’s all-time top five for appearances, as well as Chelsea Blissett (signed to the end of 2023/24), Naomi Chinnama, Leah Davidson, Darcey Malone, Leticia McKenna and Tori Tumeth.
With that core group of talented – and now proven – young players, in addition to any further re-signings to be made over the off-season, the team is already looking well-equipped to go in search of a third Premiership and fifth Championship when the league returns for Season 2022/23.