City enjoying home comforts as it grows into 2021-22 ALW season

Ahead of their meeting with Adelaide United, Melbourne City captain Emma Checker and coach Rado Vidošić believe their side will only improve as the season goes on — especially on the AAMI Park surface. 

After downing Canberra United in the opening week of their 2021-22 A-League Women (ALW) campaign, City was brought back to earth in last week’s derby meeting with Melbourne Victory; were downed 2-1 by the league leaders. 

Taking advantage of their foes disjointed structure in the wake of captain Kayla Morrison’s ACL injury and the reshuffling involved in the introduction of Alex Chidiac into the midfield, the Citizens took a 1-0 lead into halftime of that contest, only to fade as the second half wore on and give up two quickfire goals to Catherine Zimmerman and Lynn Williams. 

A late push and a red-card to fill-in Victory centreback Amy Jackson did provide some hope, but it ultimately went unfulfilled: City falling out of the top four on goal difference after Newcastle Jets’ thumping win over Wellington Phoenix. 

“It was obviously a disappointing result,” Checker said. “One, because we don’t like losing in general but two there’s always pride attached to a derby match. 

“But in saying that, despite the result, there were so many positives we could take from that. It was still a close game and possession-wise we did really well. Obviously, statistics don’t win matches but we do take that into the games moving forward. 

“In particular, tomorrow against Adelaide we know that we are a good possession team and when we press well we have success. I think now it’s just about making sure that we stick to what we are really good at, stick to our game plan and we want a big three points tomorrow.”

City will attempt to source those “big three points” against Adelaide United on Saturday afternoon, kicking off before the A-League Men Christmas Derby at AAMI Park. 

The Reds bounced back from their heavy opening round one loss to defeat to Victory to secure their first points of the season last week: coming from behind to defeat Canberra 2-1 thanks to a 91st-minute winner from Emily Condon. 

The Reds triumphed in the only meeting between the two sides in 2020-21 – also through a 2-1 margin of victory – and this week announced that they had re-signed the goalscorer in that fixture, Dylan Holmes, for the remainder of this season. What role, if any, the 24-year-old will play on Saturday is unclear. 

Nonetheless, for Vidošić, the game represents not just an opportunity to claim an important win and some modicum of retribution for last season, but also another important building block in his team’s improvement within their possession-based style of play. 

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“We are very careful with the way we are working,” he said. “We are trying to improve a lot of habits. We are trying to develop a lot of points in our game. And then it takes time because a lot of these players haven’t played for a long time, or haven’t trained in a professional environment, some of them, before. They haven’t played in big games like Derbies before. 

“So, we are expecting that everyone is going to improve as the season progresses and if we could develop those habits we’ve been talking about and if we can develop them in the right manner then our season is going to be quite successful. 

“It’s just part of the process that not many people have been exposed to. It’s going to take some time. But I think we are in a much better position than we have been in the past. 

“We had five weeks in the preseason and this is now our third week in season. We had eight weeks of training with the whole team. We haven’t had too many injuries where people miss the training sessions or the games so from that point of view we are much better prepared.”

For Checker, that Saturday’s fixture will be at AAMI Park represents another boost. 

ALW’s move towards an increase in doubleheaders with men’s fixtures has not been without controversy in 2021-22; its goal of creating a greater connection between a club’s various teams, increasing crowds, and improving broadcast standards bumping heads with fostering the intimate atmosphere of community stadiums and the unique fan culture that has laid down roots in the ‘Dub’. 

But City’s captain, who returned to ALW ahead of the 2020-21 campaign after an up and down period in France, relishes the opportunity to access the facilities of City’s home by the Yarra and believes that playing games there provides City with an advantage. 

“AAMI Park, in terms of surface, is perfect,” she said. “For me, there’s a different hype when you go into a game at a stadium like that. I think it is really special.

“There’s a tradeoff sometimes with the atmosphere and it can be hard when you’re in such a big stadium to get the noise up and to hear the crowd and feel the crowd. But I think there are massive benefits to playing in facilities like that and I know for us it’s something that we really look forward to. 

“I think it is a massive positive. The fact that we were able to get a standalone at AAMI Park is a massive step in the right direction with where women’s football is heading. 

“I think [the surface] does work in our favour. And another big benefit of fields like AAMI Park is that they are so big. Sometimes the community fields that we play on aren’t quite as big and it can be difficult for teams coming to adjust to that size. 

“Even for us it sometimes takes a couple of rounds to get used to the size of the field. But it does have a home advantage for us and we really look forward to playing on that surface.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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