To say that Friday evening’s game between Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar is a big one is a bit of an understatement.
With just four rounds left on the season, City – who also have to contend with a bye week in round 12 – sit in on the outside looking in at the W-League’s finals-bound top four; a point behind the fourth-placed Brisbane Roar.
The Bundoora based side last week suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat in the season’s second Melbourne Derby thanks to a late wonder strike from Melbourne Victory attacker Christine Nairn, who buried the ball just inside the far post directly from a corner.
Despite the eventual defeat though, City, for the most part, thoroughly controlled the contest prior to Nairn’s 88th-minute strike; doing an excellent job of isolating Victory danger-player Tash Dowie in one-on-one situations and playing some excellent football until they became bogged down in and around the Victory penalty area.
The biggest talking point to come from the contest, nevertheless, has been the playing surface; the PFA releasing a social media post on Tuesday that quoted participating players declaring the surface not of an FFA standard, not in accordance with the W-League CBA and reflecting poorly on Women’s sport.
Melbourne City Head Coach Rado Vidosic added his voice to the condemnation on Thursday, saying “Definitely it was not safe,” when asked to comment on the surface.
The loss to their cross-town rivals also means that City, if they are to make the finals, will likely have to do so from the fourth position.
Such a situation, however, will likely carry little intimidation factor for Vidosic’s side, who have won the past to W-League championships from that exact same position on the table.
City defender Lauren Barnes has been a vital cog in both of those championship winning campaigns, winning City’s player of the season award in 2017-18 and being named a part of the PFA’s Team of the Season for the same campaign.
The 29-year-old – who has been employed in the centre of the City defence alongside Rebekah Stott during the 18-19 season – admits that although the main focus of the City playing group remains their next game against Brisbane, she and her teammates can’t help but occasionally start running numbers in their heads.
“Yeah, I feel like it’s a pink elephant,” the UCLA alumna said.
“You can do all the numbers you want but at the end of the day if you win, you get the job done, you get it done.
“But I think it’s kind of hard not to do the math when it comes down to these last three games.
“There’s definitely pressure but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think our team performs well under pressure. Maybe it gives us a bit more motivation on our end.
“But we’ve got to do well in these next three games, there’s no way around it.
“It feels so weird that we haven’t played (Brisbane) yet.
“It’s always a fun game when you play against Brisbane, they’re always one of the top teams in the league and they also want to play, they play a similar style.
“So, I’m really excited to play against them.
“It’s always very competitive and as top athletes, we just love those type of games.”
If City is to down Roar, make a run to the finals and win an unprecedented fourth W-League title in a row, they will have to do so without the dynamic duo of Kyah Simon and Jodie Taylor.
Simon was on Sunday ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury, whilst Taylor on Wednesday mutually terminated her guest contract with the club in order to continue her rehabilitation of an injury suffered during the NWSL season ahead of the World Cup.
“I think with seasons and all of us playing back-to-back you’re going to cop injuries and it’s really unfortunate,” Barnes explained when asked about the challenges facing City towards the end of the season.
“I’m really bummed for both of them.
“Obviously Kyah’s gone through a lot and Jodie trying to get healthy again, and they both have World Cup to look forward to as well so it’s an important thing they get themselves right.
“But yeah, it’s going to be different.
“You want those players in the mix because they are game-changers, but at the end of the day you can’t help injuries, so you’ve just got to do what you’ve to do.”
Although it seems bizarre to even contemplate, given their status as three-time defending W-League champions, the situation lends itself to Barnes and her City teammates seeing themselves somewhat as underdogs in the push for finals football.
Such emotions would, according to Barnes, feed into an attitude that already exists within City; although the reasons behind said mindset are ones that she happy to deal with given their implication.
“I feel like when you play for City you get (an ‘us against the world’ mentality) naturally for whatever reason.
“I feel like we’ve got a target on our backs and we’ve got to stick together and trust in what we’re good at and go out there and put a performance together.
“For whatever reason, we’ve set the standard and I think, as women’s soccer players, we should all kind of thrive… actually kind of shoot for the standard we’ve created.
“I don’t know, I kind of don’t want to say anything (and give bulletin board material to opposition sides)
“To be honest, I’ve played here, I’ve played at Victory, I’ve played at a lot of different clubs as well and for me and where I’m at, I want the game to grow for the younger generation.
“I hope that we, eventually, can take what we have – the standards.
“And you can already tell in the W-League that teams have tried to step up and are getting closer to a standard that, not just City proved, but where we should be at as women’s soccer.
“Like, put City aside, it should have nothing to do with (chasing a) club, but to actually bring in the values and stuff like that we as women’s soccer players deserve and should have.
“It shouldn’t be anything below that.”