Melbourne City’s 2020-21 W-League campaign may have been hampered by an exodus of Matildas from their ranks, but coach Rado Vidosic believes that the void has allowed young midfielder Leah Davidson to emerge as a future Australian regular.
Davidson, 19, signed with City ahead of the 2020-21 season as part of the new generation brought to Bundoora following the exit of stars such as Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Aivi Luik, and Ellie Carpenter.
Having previously been restricted to just 11 appearances across two seasons at Brisbane Roar, the sparse nature of the City list meant that the youngster has played every minute of every game since - her defensive efforts helping her keep a place in the XI despite the additions of Alex Chidiac, Noor Eckhoff and Chinatsu Kira as the campaign progressed.
She is expected to once again take up her place in the midfield when City meet Western Sydney Wanderers on Thursday night, and Vidosic believes that his young midfielder has what it takes to progress into one of Australia’s best; another youngster seizing her chance as the demographics of the W-League shift.
"I think she has been fantastic,” Vidosic said on Wednesday. “She is now playing alongside Noor Eckhoff, who is someone with international experience. So it’s good that she can learn from her and I think they’re developing a good relationship in the middle of the park.
“She has been fantastic all year. To be honest, you never know what players are going to deliver, so you kind of go in with a clean slate for everyone, but she has been fantastic. We want to keep her here for next year and many years to come.
“I believe she’s got what it takes to play for the Matildas, she just needs to improve her ball control and ball play. From a defensive point of view, she’s been fantastic, she’s been breaking up opponents attacks, she’s been winning the ball, she’s been tracking, she’s been running, her data is unbelievable.
“I think in a few years time she is going to be one of the first names selected for the Matildas.”
Despite unearthing a potential gem in Davidson - as well as others such as Harriet Withers and Naomi Thomas-Chinnama - City’s 2020-21 campaign is shaping as, at best, a transition year for the club.
Having won and drawn just a solitary game compared to five losses, failure to pick up anything less than maximum points from their remaining five games will see the four-time W-League champions record their lowest ever points total as a club.
Of course, the W-League has been well renowned for its unpredictability even before COVID-19 upended the established order and, with all of their remaining games against sides also residing in the bottom section of the table, stranger things have happened.
Vidosic, for his part, wouldn’t put too much stock in ideas of an insane, Steven Bradbury-like run to the finals, but did say that the 20-day break his side will have had when they take on Wanderers has done wonders for their cohesion and chemistry.
“We managed to put a lot of training sessions into them, a lot of practice,” he said. “With a new team you’re kind of experimenting with practices at the beginning, but I think we now have found a sweet spot of what is best for the team.
“You need to find the practices that are going to satisfy what they need. We see, at the moment, we struggle to keep the ball for more than three or four passes so that was a big thing that we need to improve on. Our pressing was not good enough, so we need to improve that.
“It’s a challenge for me as a coach to find the best balance but I think we managed over the last 20 days. I think we managed to find the right balance in what this group needs and I can’t wait to see how they’re going to go against the Wanderers.”
Vidosic’s captain Emma Checker, however, was prepared to be a little bit more bullish about her side’s home stretch.
“I feel really confident in the group,” she said. “We’re all really buzzing and energetic over the way the last couple of weeks have worked out on the training pitch.
“It’s been really hard for us to have that time to gel for a number of reasons, and they’re not excuses, that’s just the reality of it. We came together late, we had half of our starting lineup in quarantine right up to the start of the season or even into the season. I came back from injury and a few others had some niggles.
“This is probably the first point in the season that we’ve been able to be together as a fully fit group to really tactically get on top of what we’re trying to work towards and you will start to see the real Melbourne City coming through.
“It’s disappointing it couldn’t have been earlier but, at the same time, it’s never too late in a season like this where there’s so much chopping and changing and I believe we’ll really pull through a good five games.”