Western United fell to a 3-0 defeat against Canberra United in Round 19 of the Liberty A-League Women on Saturday afternoon.
Canberra got off to a dream start when Vesna Milivojevic scored the opening goal after just 39 seconds, and she would go on to double hers and the team’s tally shortly after the hour mark.
The visitors sealed the win with a strike from Chengshu Wu in the 75th minute, consigning United to defeat.
United remains top of the Liberty A-League table heading into the final round of the regular season next weekend, where the Green and Black will take on Western Sydney Wanderers.
Mark Torcaso welcomed Kahli Johnson back into the starting XI, the No.10 having missed the previous two fixtures for United while on international duty.
There was also a welcome return to the matchday squad for Stacey Papadopoulos who took up a place on the bench.
It was the worst possible start for Western United as a giveaway at the back presented Milivojevic with the ball at the top of the box, but the Canberra No.17 more than did the rest with a brilliant strike into the top right corner.
United responded well to the early set back and looked to get on the ball and penetrate Canberra’s defence straight away, with Johnson and Hannah Keane linking up well down the left.
The Green and Black recycled the play and Tyla Jay Vlajnic directed a cross towards the back post, but Emma Robers just couldn’t properly reach the ball as she headed over the crossbar.
United continued to search for a way back into the match but was limited largely to half chances, one of which saw Keane move well onto her left foot before blasting a strike just over the goal.
Much of United’s momentum was scuppered when Robers was forced off with injury after getting in a tangle and falling forcefully on her ankle in the 22nd minute.
The ensuing substitution forced a change of system as Julia Sardo came on and United struggled to rediscover its fluidity in possession with the alteration to the midfield structure.
The defence was able to ensure Canberra could not add any further to the lead, though Grace Maher came close with a long-range free kick that clipped the top of the crossbar right before the break.
United emerged from the dressing room with renewed energy at the beginning of the second half, playing with greater tempo and urgency in possession in search of a crucial equaliser.
But that momentum quickly dissipated target as Canberra began to regained control, with their ability to disrupt United’s chains of possession keeping them on top in the midfield battle.
United was on the back foot and needed Hillary Beall to make a smart stop to keep the deficit at one, but it wasn’t much longer before the home side’s resistance was broken.
A swift counter-attack from Canberra caught United cold as Michelle Heyman played a defence-splitting pass into Milivojevic who finished coolly past Beall into the bottom right corner.
That was the sucker punch that deflated United in its bid to take something away from the match, and Canberra lifted to score a third 10 minutes later.
Wu was impressive all afternoon in midfield and she finished decisively when the ball dropped to her on the edge of the box after a cleared corner.
Heyman thought she capped off the afternoon with a fourth goal in injury time, but the striker was ruled offside in the build-up, keeping the final result at 3-0.
One positive from the second period was the introduction of Papadopoulos, who produced an energetic half-hour display and very nearly found the top corner with a long-range effort.