Melbourne City FC has suffered a hard fought defeat in the A-League Women Semi Final, going down 4-2 to Sydney FC.
City led 2-0 but a chaotic end to the game saw Sydney fight back and send it to extra time before twice finding the back of the net in the additional period as the visitors finished with nine players.
Head Coach Rado Vidosic opted to make three changes to the starting line-up that came away 2-0 winners against Western Sydney last Sunday.
Rebekah Stott made her return after being rested for that clash, while Leticia McKenna and Tyla-Jay Vlajnic also were back in the starting XI in place of Meisha Westland, Caitlin Karic and Chelsea Blissett who all were named on the bench.
It was the home side who got off to the faster start of the two teams, placing City on the back foot immediately.
A solid save from Melissa Barbieri in the tenth minute kept Rachel Lowe out from close range as City looked to shake off its early jitters.
From there, it was a much more composed City outfit and the chances started to come, albeit mostly on the counter.
City almost had the opener in the 20th after a venomous hit from Vlajnic, but Sydney goalkeeper Jada Whyman pulled off a spectacular save to stop it from ending up in the top corner as seemed almost inevitable.
The visiting City side wouldn’t have to wait much longer for the opener though, as the ball wound up in the back of the net just a minute later.
A quality pass from Leticia McKenna in midfield found Vlajnic in space who this time turned provider with a dangerous cross into the box which Sydney struggled to deal with, leaving Hannah Wilkinson to pick the scraps and score her 13th goal of the season.
City continued to look dangerous in the transition phase as its defence held up strongly, with Winonah Heatley and Tori Tumeth having some big moments.
It was almost the perfect end to the half with another City move on the counter presenting a scoring opportunity, this time for McKenna, but Whyman was able to make the save.
It was a tense start to the second stanza, leaving fans on the edge of their seats as both sides showed nothing would be left on the pitch.
City fans would’ve been able to breathe a little easier at the 58th minute, after a passage of play that could’ve been taken out of any ‘beautiful football’ textbook around the world.
Some fancy footwork from Stott left two defenders flat-footed and searching for a map, opening up space for a perfectly timed run from McKenna who received and placed her pass perfectly for Wilkinson to finish first time at the near post.
The home side searched hard for a way back into the game over the next twenty minutes and they eventually found one when Cortnee Vine was able to head home an Ally Green cross with around 20 minutes left on the clock.
It was a chaotic end to the 90 minutes with Sydney pushing hard for the equaliser as City did everything possible to keep them out. This was the downfall of Vlajnic who fouled Vine who was facing an open goal, resulting in a straight red to the City wing-back.
The ensuing free kick went over the bar but the home side weren’t kept out for long with Maria Rojas finding the back of the net minutes later to send it to extra time.
City fought hard throughout the the additional 30 minutes and left everything out on the pitch but the numerical advantage was too much to overcome in the end with Sydney coming out on top.
To make matters worse for City, Melissa Barbieri will now join Vlajnic on the sidelines next week after also picking up a red card in the final minutes.
City now turns its attention to a preliminary final next week where it will host the winner of Sunday’s Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory clash.
This match will be played on Sunday 20 March at AAMI Park, with kick-off set for 4:05pm. Ticketing details will be released soon.