City pass Wanderers in seven-goal thriller

A Holly McNamara hat-trick has helped Melbourne City overcome a resilient Western Sydney Wanderers outfit who refused to wilt in a 4-3 defeat at AAMI Park on Sunday night.

City led 4-1 in the second half before a late fightback from the Wanderers who, if not for McNamara’s devastating display, would have likely returned home with at least a share of the spoils; the 20-year-old bagged a “perfect” hat-trick, scoring with both her left and right foot before a powerful header to cap off the stellar individual showing.

An early Rhianna Pollicina penalty was City’s first of four goals – and by full-time they needed each and every one of them, with a Sophie Harding brace bookending Vicky Bruce’s second-half strike turning what might have been a cruisy afternoon for City into a tense tussle against a Wanderers outfit that never said die.

City turned the screws early doors, enjoying the bulk of the chances highlighted by a Leticia McKenna strike in the 15th minute, deflected off a Wanderers body and flashing just wide of the post.

But 11 minutes later City found the breakthrough thanks to Pollicina’s penalty, dispatched with authority into the roof of the net after McNamara won a foul off Amy Chessari as she cut across the Wanderers midfielder in the penalty area.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 12: Amy Chessari of the Wanderers and Holly McNamara of Melbourne City compete for the ball during the A-League Women round four match between Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park, on November 12, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Soon after it was 2-0, with McNamara finding the top-right corner after a sustained piece of City pressure combined with a sub-par sequence of Wanderers defending.

It all started with a left-footed Kaitlyn Torpey strike from outside the box that rattled the crossbar, dropping invitingly for Pollicina who had all the time in the world to take aim and strike from close range. Somehow, Sham Khamis kept the Pollicina strike out – but the rebound fell to McNamara who was afforded far too much time to shoot and score.

Khamis was furious in the aftermath, remonstrating with her teammates as City celebrated their second.

Then came a bolt from the blue as the Wanderers struck back just before half-time. Cushla Rue’s direct running toward the penalty area dragged a number of defenders and sent Harding free on the edge of the area. The cut-back to her feet required a touch to control before a lashing strike past Lysianne Proulx into the back of the net.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 12: Leticia McKenna of Melbourne City and Cushla Rue of the Wanderers compete for the ball during the A-League Women round four match between Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park, on November 12, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Harding had a glorious chance to equalise in the second half when played through on goal in a one-on-one with Proulx. The Canadian keeper stood tall in the battle and got a strong left hand on the Harding shot to keep City’s lead intact.

The hosts went on to make Western Sydney pay. It was McNamara coming up with her second and City’s third, latching onto a Hannah WIlkinson through ball and rounding Khamis to give City some breathing room.

Then it was three for McNamara, who soared to meet a Pollicina corner and thump a header into the back of the net to make it 4-1. Hearts were in mouths in the aftermath as the City forward fell into the net holding her ankle, which twisted under the body of Proulx as she landed. After an extended delay, McNamara was back to her feet, and eventually, back on the pitch.

City were cruising with a 4-1 lead – but Dario Vidosic’s side were soon made to sweat by a pair of Wanderers goals to cut the lead back down to just one.

First it was Vicky Bruce making it 4-2, squeezing a close-range shot in from a narrow angle after an Alexia Apostolakis corner headed on target by Harding, and saved by Proulx into the path of Bruce.

The Wanderers repeated the feat five minutes later to make it 4-3, with Harding again the goalscorer, and a set piece again the dangerous avenue to goal, with a Proulx save parried into the path of the Wanderers striker to finish.

The moment of Deja vu meant City had 17 agonising minutes of regular time left to navigate in a game that was all-but wrapped up by McNamara’s hat-trick goal before a quick-fire double from the visitors.

But despite holding all the momentum, the Wanderers couldn’t add a fourth to the scoresheet as City navigated through seven minutes of additional time to the final whistle, and all three points.