The new-look Wellington Phoenix women have shown promise against one of the Liberty A-League’s leading teams but have ultimately come up short in their 2023-24 season opener.
The Phoenix have been beaten 1-0 by four-time champions Melbourne City on a blustery afternoon at Sky Stadium in Wellington, with Football Ferns striker Hannah Wilkinson scoring the 73rd minute match-winner.
New coach Paul Temple fielded seven debutants, five of which were in the starting XI.
“I think everyone is disappointed with the loss,” Temple told media post-match. “I think we did enough in terms of creating good goalscoring opportunities. We had two big ones at the start of the second half that we didn’t take.
“Melbourne City had a lot of possession and they ended up punishing us. It feels like a little bit of a blow, but there were some good things that we were happy with as well.
“I genuinely felt we could win today. I feel like we can beat anybody, but we just need to piece all the parts of the puzzle together.
“It is going to take a little bit of time and even though we’re not going to be perfect next week I still feel we can pick up points while we’re in this process.
“It’s not going to be six weeks until we get to where we want to be and then we start winning, hopefully we can pick up wins along the way as well.”
Temple named a refreshed starting XI for round one, with goalkeeper Rylee Foster, right back Hailey Davidson, midfielder Macey Fraser, and wingers Hope Breslin and Manaia Elliott named to make their debuts for the Phoenix, while striker Emma Main was selected to make her first start after two previous appearances off the bench last season.
Michaela Foster led the team in the absence of Annalie Longo, who missed out through injury.
“Hopefully she’ll be okay for next weekend,” he said. “She didn’t quite pass the fitness test yesterday to be involved today which was a big blow for her and the team. She was desperate to be playing today and I think she would have made a difference.
“We were lacking composure. We struggled for the first 20 minutes and then we got quite organised, but we turned the ball over too easily when we won it back.
“We had too many times where we gave them possession back quickly and then we were defending again.
“We needed to be better on the ball and when we were we caused them some trouble. It’s about building on that and creating more consistency.”
Three of the newcomers combined to produce the Nix’s first opportunity of the match in the eighth minute, with Breslin and Davidson combining down the right wing before Elliott showed some trickery to get into the box, but was unable to link up with a teammate.
Rylee Foster was quick off her line moments later to snuff out City’s first chance as their right back Kaitlyn Torpey burst into the Wellington penalty area.
Elliott continued to impress down the left wing and was fouled on the edge of the visitors’ box in the 20th minute. Michaela Foster curled the resulting free-kick narrowly wide of goal.
It was end-to-end midway through the first half, with Rylee Foster making a sharp save to deny the ever-dangerous Holly McNamara before Main broke down the other end of the pitch and caused trouble in City’s penalty area. Unfortunately for the Phoenix, Elliott wasn’t able to head her right-wing cross on target.
Neither ‘keeper was threatened for the remainder of the half, with McNamara coming closest when she found the roof of the Nix goal in the 44th minute.
Temple was forced to go to his bench at halftime, with Elliott withdrawn as a precaution and replaced by another debutant, Venezuela international Mariana Speckmaier.
The Phoenix made a bright start to the second half, with City ‘keeper Lysianne Proulx forced to make a good save to deny Davidson, who had burst forward into the visitors’ box.
Melbourne City began to take back control after Proulx’s save and McNamara fizzed a shot narrowly wide of goal in the 54th minute.
Their best opportunity fell to Wilkinson nine minutes later when the New Zealand international got in behind the Nix centre backs, but she was only able to find the side netting as Foster cut down her angle.
Speckmaier had the best chance for the Phoenix in the 70th minute when Kate Taylor made a lung-busting run down the left wing and delivered an inch-perfect cross. Unfortunately for the hosts, the Venezuela international’s first-time shot sailed over the crossbar.
City took the lead shortly after when Rylee Foster was unable to hold on to Rhianna Pollicina’s powerful shot from the edge of the box and Wilkinson pounced to tap home from a couple of yards out.
The Nix pushed numbers forward in search of an equaliser and came closest in the eighth minute of time added on when Fraser produced a shot from the edge of the area that forced Proulx, the Canadian international, to make a sharp save and keep the visitors in front.
The final whistle blew moments later, with City holding on to take all three points from the capital.
The Wellington Phoenix will head across the Tasman next weekend to play Western Sydney Wanderers in an A-Leagues double-header.
Wellington Phoenix: 1. Rylee FOSTER (gk), 3. Kate TAYLOR (23. Rebecca LAKE 89th), 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa van der MEER, 6. Macey FRASER, 7. Chloe KNOTT (8. Grace WISNEWSKI 63rd), 11. Hope BRESLIN, 13. Michaela FOSTER (c), 18. Hailey DAVIDSON, 20. Emma MAIN (10. Alyssa WHINHAM 80th), 21. Manaia ELLIOTT (17. Mariana SPECKMAIER 46th).
Unused substitutes: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk).
Melbourne City: 1. Lysianne PROULX (gk), 5. Taylor OTTO, 6. Leticia MCKENNA (19. Tijan MCKENNA 90+5), 7. Julia GROSSO, 8. Kaitlyn TORPEY, 9. Holly MCNAMARA, 10. Rhianna POLLICINA (20. Caitlin KARIC 80th), 13. Rebekah STOTT (c), 17. Hannah WILKINSON, 22. Bryleeh HENRY (14. Laura HUGHES 80th), 24. Daniela GALIC
Unused substitutes: 23. Melissa BARBIERI (gk), 3. Naomi THOMAS-CHINNAMA.
17. Hannah WILKINSON (Melbourne City) – 73rd