Jess Fishlock inspires Melbourne City to third W-League title

Mike Hytner at Allianz Stadium on 18 February 2018

Three years, three titles. Melbourne City’s domination of the W-League shows no signs of abating after Jess Fishlock inspired the club to a third championship in the three years of their existence in a 2-0 win over Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium.

Welsh international Fishlock scored one and played an integral part in the other – netted by another import, Jodie Taylor – as City, who finished the regular season in fourth place on the ladder, proved they know what it takes to win when it really matters.

Fishlock, who was later named player of the game, opened the scoring in the first half with a perfectly-executed lob from distance before her 75-minute free-kick struck the frame of the goal and left Taylor with a simple tap-in to seal victory for City.

Pre-match, it was a tough one to call, as it should be for a grand final. Both sides’ form has been blistering in the run-up and with little to separate the two on paper, the difference on Sunday proved to be City’s player-assistant coach.

Signed on loan from Seattle Reign three years ago, the 31-year-old now has the incredible record of having won four W-League titles in her five years playing in Australia. With one won while at Melbourne Victory in 2014, that now makes four championship medals from four grand final appearances. And in the latest, on a hot and steamy day in front of a record crowd for a W-League grand final of 6,025, it needed a player of her considerable talent to unlock the game.

“I’m so glad that we won, I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Fishlock said. “We have a great group of girls here, fully committed to each other, we support each other no end and at the end of the day when you have a play-off system, big games matter.

“In the last four games of this season, we have conceded no goals and scored seven. We have a team that are not only great people but they are big time players and at the end of the day those players have to perform when it matters.”

For the best part of the opening period, the stalemate had held, despite chances falling at both ends. It could have been different as early as the second minute, were it not for a poor touch letting Taylor down and allowing Aubrey Bledsloe to come off her line to claim at the England international’s feet. Those two were to come together again before the first half was out, decisively so.

But before then, Lisa De Vanna, one of several players to line up against their previous club on the day, had a sniff of a chance after the excellent Sydney FC captain Teresa Polias saw her shot blocked, but her snap shot was wide of the mark. Moments later, the former City player should have opened the scoring, but she pushed her effort just wide of post after some neat approach play involving Leena Khamis and Emily Sonnet.

At the other end, Yukari Kinga saw a long-range fizzer fly just wide of Bledsoe’s post on 26 minutes before City did manage to break the deadlock following the first moment of international class from Fishlock – somewhat aided and abetted by a comedy of errors.

Fishlock showed just why she is one of the best players this competition has seen with a stunning lobbed finish from distance over the stranded Bledsoe. How she came to be in such a position, though, is unlikely to feature in any coaching manual; looking to launch a quick counter-attack, Bledsoe rolled the ball out to Georgia Yeoman-Dale but in doing so collided with Taylor and ended up prone on the ground. That in itself would not hugely problematic had Yeoman-Dale’s first touch not let her down. Fishlock swiftly gained possession, and seeing the goalkeeper still off her line, she duly capitalised.

Bledsoe’s complaints to the official posted behind her goal fell on deaf ears and at a second glance it was the right call – the keeper fell into Taylor, rather than the other way around, and she could only have herself, or more likely her momentum, to blame.

Sydney sought to respond after the break as Yeoman-Dale looked to make amends for her earlier error with a screamer from 25 yards out that was tipped over the bar by her Matildas team-mate Lydia Williams.

Williams was again called into action just moments later, this time to deny Polias what would have been a wonderful free-kick – and one that would have been fully deserving of a dynamic all-round performance by the Sydney captain.

A goal from a set piece began to look like Sydney’s best chance of getting back into the game as they started to run out of ideas going forward. De Vanna, her typical brisk self throughout and another of those playing against her former employers, did her best to create something out of nothing on 57 minutes when, with seemingly no other options, she played a deft ball through to Kylie Ledbrook whose half-volley on the run hit the side netting.

That was as close as Sydney were to go and three minutes after Rhali Dobson, on for the injured Kyah Simon, was off target with a venomous shot the game was over. More Fishlock magic led to the goal that settled the destination of this season’s title; her beautifully-struck free-kick was heading for the top corner until Bledsoe tipped it onto the bar only for the ball to canon down and fall into the path of Taylor.

The England international tapped home for one of the easier goals of her career, and the wild celebrations from those players in red and white suggested they knew that was it. Melbourne City’s reign continues.

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