Dark Blues’ Victory Dents WSW Finals Hopes

Melbourne Victory 1-0 Western Sydney Wanderers

By Kieran Yap

Above: Melbourne Victory celebrate Annalie Longo’s goal. Photo: @victorywleague.

On an immaculate pitch, in perfect conditions and in finals bound form, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers played in front of an empty stadium and put on a display of fast, wonderfully chaotic football that would have delighted the crowd had fans been able to attend.

The game was originally scheduled to be played at Lakeside Stadium, but 24 hours from kick-off, the pitch condition at that venue necessitated a late switch to AAMI Park. This was far too late to ensure the necessary Covid-safe regulations would be in place at the 30,050 seater venue of the men’s Victory team.

Victory were without influential attacker Catherine Zimmerman who was nursing a calf niggle following the draw with Canberra and Western Sydney again started Leena Khamis on the bench despite her recent scoring form, with coach Dean Heffernan electing to go with young speedster Bryleeh Henry up front.

Lisa De Vanna looked to be in good touch early, one of her first touches was rolling the ball behind her, between two defenders into the path of Annalie Longo and Victory looked happy to make good use of the AAMI Park surface to stroke the ball around at pace and try and find an opening.

Despite Melbourne having the majority of early possession, it was WSW who fired the first shot in anger, a counter attack and cross by Danika Matos was met by Henry but her shot flew over the bar. Henry looked dangerous early and almost broke away to race in on goal before a backtracking Kyra Cooney-Cross hurried back to recover the ball.  If the Victory prodigy had added defensive steel to her already considerable attacking abilities her powers may soon be complete.

Melina Ayres responded in attack for Melbourne, she controlled a cross into the box on her right foot, shifted it quickly onto her left and got the shot away. It sailed wide but it was a good sign of the strikers instinct and confidence, the right thing to do, and done in a split second.

Melbourne again attacked when De Vanna won the ball on the left flank and after exchanging passes found herself in space with Ayres charging into the middle, a shot on goal looked imminent but Nikola Orgill arrived to put in a well-timed block on the cross.

Is it possible to be awarded “Save Of The Week” for just incredibly good luck?

Sarah Willacy might find out when the round is complete after a corner kick caused havoc in the WSW penalty area and the ball fell to Melina Ayres. She shot from inside the six yard box and Willacy was not only on the ground already but facing the wrong way following a clash of players. The ball somehow missed the crowd of defenders and crashed into Willacy who knew very little of it, but kept the scores level, a moment later she showed off her more conventional goalkeeping talents when she anticipated a Cooney-Cross attempt to score with an attempted Olympico (scoring direct from a corner) from the next flag kick.

Although Victory were doing the majority of the attacking, Western Sydney threatened with the pace of Julie-Anne Russell, Georgia Yeoman-Dale and Teigan Collister on the flanks and they all looked dangerous on the counter-attack when the midfield were able to get the ball to them quickly and again Henry was almost in on goal before a well-timed Kayla Morrison tackle prevented the scoring chance.

Lisa De Vanna was rewarded for her endeavor after she chased down a long ball that Orgill tried to shepherd out of play, she managed to flick the ball back into play and tried to run onto it, both her and Orgill grabbed at each other but the referee decided that De Vanna was being obstructed and awarded the free kick to Melbourne.  Kyra Cooney-Cross drove the free kick into a dangerous area, close to goal but low enough that Willacy couldn’t easily gather, Ayres rose to meet it and the ball fell for Longo to sweep it home from close range and send Victory into half time 1-0 up.

Above: Western Sydney Wanderers’ young starlet Sarah Hunter tussles with Melbourne Victory goal scorer Annalie Longo. Photo: @wsydneywanderers

The Wanderers introduced Khamis after half time and the attack immediately took on a more dangerous shape, her guile and experience was needed to compliment Henry’s pace and provide another target for the visitors’ wingers.

The pace of the game did not decrease in the second half but neither side found many easy chances to score, for that credit has to go to both sets of defenders, with crosses by Matos and Barbieri cut off by Morrison and Orgill for Melbourne and WSW respectively.

Khamis had a difficult chance to level the scores after the otherwise faultless Gabby Garton skied her clearance and it landed 18 yards from goal, Khamis tried to hook it over the scrambling goalkeeper but her effort cleared the crossbar.

Up the other end Lisa De Vanna sped past the Wanderers defense in trademark style and fired a shot from her left foot and forcing Willacy into a strong diving save.

Rosie Galea swiveled curled an attempt on goal for Western Sydney and Cooney-Cross tried to deliver a spectacular sealer from long distance, in both cases the goalkeepers looked concerned but in the shots just whizzed wide.

The unpredictable nature of the game continued until the dying moments, substitute Lia Privitelli raced after a long ball that Willacy was already arriving at, the Wanderers keeper cleared the ball but Privitelli slid after it and with two feet slid straight through her, it was poorly timed and poorly executed and even she looked surprised to only receive a yellow card for it. The saving grace might have been that she did not have studs up and looked to try and tuck in her legs at the last second, but she was lucky to not see red, fortunately Willacy was unharmed but unfortunately for her the game ended in a 1-0 defeat to Melbourne Victory.

With that win, Melbourne Victory look almost certain for a top four finish, they play Perth Glory twice in the final games of the season and though they should not take them lightly, they will go in as favourites.

The season is too short for everybody, but it feels particularly true of Western Sydney. They look to be just finding their groove and although they did not get the result on this occasion they have a young brigade of weapons such as Henry, Sarah Hunter, Courtney Nevin and Libby Copus-Brown who are supported by some experienced players. Copus-Brown has been shifted into a deeper midfield role recently and has been increasingly influential. Hopefully they can keep most of this side together and with a few additions can be a threat next season. They are not technically out of it this year, but everything will have to go their way in the following weeks, but as Sarah Willacy’s save showed, a little luck is never out of the question.

Teams: MELBOURNE VICTORY: Garton, Doran, Beard, Bunge, Morrison, Jackson, Barbieri, Cooney-Cross, Ayres, Longo, De Vanna. Substitutes: Maizels (GK), Markovski, Martineau, Privitelli, Eliadis.

Scorer: Longo 43.

WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: Willacy, Matos, Yeoman-Dale, Orgill, Cooper, Copus-Brown, Hunter, Price, Henry, Collister, Russell. Substitutes: Newbon (GK), Chauvet, Galea, Halloway, Khamis.

Referee: Georgia Ghiradello.

Attendance: Behind Closed Doors.

Impetus’ coverage of Australian Women’s Football is supported by The Chicken Salt Co. They are offering every Impetus reader 5% off all orders of Chicken Salt from their website. Go to https://www.chickensalt.co.uk/?mate=impetus and place your order – 5% will automatically be taken off of the cost. The coupon code is impetus.

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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