MELBOURNE, March 21 (Reuters) - Melbourne City beat defending champions Sydney FC 1-0 in a hard-fought W-League final to win a fourth title in five years as the Australian women’s 2019-20 season reached a conclusion on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The title-decider, which attracted more than 6,000 fans in the last two seasons, was played out in front of a handful of family and friends at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium because of government restrictions on gatherings of more than 500 people.
Skipper Steph Catley’s early goal was enough to keep City unbeaten for the season after 11 wins and one draw in their 12 regular season fixtures, matching a feat the club achieved in the 2015-16 season.
“Obviously it’s been an unbelievable season,” Catley said. “Today was a battle, Sydney really took it to us and it was a grind the whole game. At the end of the day I think we deserve it. Even though it was a tough game, we got over the line.”
Catley struck after 15 minutes with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box which Sydney goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe helped into the net in a blunder the American will be keen to forget.
Three-times champions Sydney fought their way back into the contest and they had a good shout for a penalty turned down nine minutes before the break when a shot appeared to catch Catley’s outstretched arm.
American forward Veronica Latsko had the best chance for an equaliser after 48 minutes when she went through one-on-one on Lydia Williams but the keeper got enough on the shot to allow Ellie Carpenter to clear the ball off the line.
Williams again showed why she is the Matildas national team keeper when she got down well for a vital save to deny substitute Sydney striker Princess Ibini 10 minutes from time.
Bledsoe almost suffered another embarrassment in stoppage time when her attempted clearance clattered off City’s Serbian striker Milica Mijatovic and flashed past the post.
Social distancing advice did nothing to prevent the City players from hugging each other when the final whistle sounded as they celebrated becoming the most successful club in W-League history. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)