Melbourne Victory 1-5 Melbourne City
By Kieran Yap (26/12/21)
Above: Contrasting emotions as City celebrate another goal with Victory’s Kyra Cooney-Cross showing her immense disappointment. Photo: A-League Women.
A historic performance by Hannah Wilkinson and a dominant display from Melbourne City ended their cross-city rivals’ perfect record and sent a warning to the competition.
The New Zealand centre-forward scored an incredible five goals in the demolition of Melbourne Victory. Her first half hat-trick was followed by a second-half brace while the much-celebrated attack of Jeff Hopkins’ side was rendered harmless by a disciplined and committed City team.
In the second derby in three weeks, Victory named Tiffany Eliadis at centre-back. Amy Jackson returned to midfield and Alex Chidiac came back into the squad after missing the win in Brisbane due to border restrictions.
City had begun the season with a stutter but hit form against Adelaide United in round three. In that game, Wilkinson scored twice. It was an ominous warning for a Victory defence still trying to find a solution to the absence of Kayla Morrison.
City took only five minutes to start the rout. Wilkinson was slipped in with a beautiful pass by Holly McNamara, she took a touch to take her wider of Casey Dumont and finished coolly. City had attempted to exploit the Victory defence in the previous encounter but did not take their chances. Today there would be no such wastefulness.
The second goal came less than 10 minutes later. It has been the season for goalkeeper calamities. Brisbane, Adelaide, and Canberra have all suffered from uncharacteristic mistakes from their custodians and today it was Victory’s turn.
Casey Dumont has been one of Melbourne’s best players this season and has been largely responsible for their last two wins. However, her attempted clearance in the 13th minute bounced off a pressing McNamara and fell to Wilkinson.
City’s new star still had plenty to do when she gathered the ball 20 yards from goal. She took a touch inward and finished over the top of Dumont to double the lead.
The Sky Blues were 2-0 up but considering Victory’s firepower, they would need more to put the result beyond doubt.
Her hat-trick was completed in the 26th minute. A hopeful long ball forward bounced behind the Victory defence and between Eliadis and Dumont. Somehow the pair collided in a moment of miscommunication and poor coordination. Wilkinson was able to claim her third goal and the easiest of the day.
In most circumstances 3-0 would not be fatal to a Victory game, they still boasted an attack featuring Lynn Williams and Catherine Zimmerman, both of who had been in brilliant form lately. However, the concern in the game up to this point was that they had been unable to create chances.
City defended well in midfield and forced the midfield of Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Amy Jackson to hurry passes or turn over possession.
The defensive unit led by Emma Checker was rarely tested without midfield support. Tyla-Jay Vlajnic was effective as a left full-back in both directions and not for the first time this season.
Rhianna Pollicina’s ability to carry the ball and find space in a crowded midfield area was pivotal to City’s dominance while Rebekah Stott was as tidy and combative as ever.
Even in light of Wilkinson’s goal-scoring feats, the brightest star of this new look City might be Holly McNamara. She is tricky, intelligent, fast, and fearless. The 18-year-old has taken no time at all to adapt to the league and her assist for Wilkinson’s fourth was sublime.
Faced with three Victory defenders on the left flank, she checked back inside and assessed her options in one move. Wilkinson floated clear of her marker but with four players between her and McNamara, the pass had to be perfect.
City’s number nine held possession just long enough to give Wilkinson time to make space but released the ball before she could step offside. The pass itself was floated over perfectly and landed perfectly for Wilkinson to control unopposed.
The finish was as brilliant as the assist. Dumont reacted to the danger by coming out to close to angle but in response, Wilkinson lifted the ball over her head and into the goal. There was no margin for error and the goal was perfect in its execution.
City were in cruise control, Victory were fast running out of time and had still yet to test Melissa Barbieri.
In response, Jeff Hopkins brought on Alana Murphy, Melinda Barbieri, and Maja Markovski. City introduced Leticia McKenna and Naomi Thomas-Chinnama into the game.
McKenna took the place of McNamara. The youngster’s job for the day was done with a pair of assists and a menacing performance. McKenna made an impact of her own when she released Vlajnic to cross perfectly for Wilkinson to tap home from close range and make it five for her and five for City.
Markovski pulled one back for Victory late to restore some respect but it was too little too late for the defending champions who suffered their first defeat since the premiership decided against Sydney FC last season.
It is no mystery how they lost this game. This was the fifth defensive combination in four matches and City ruthlessly punished errors and exploited gaps.
The bigger question now is how good are City this season? They have beaten their rival and defending champions 5-1 and have clearly addressed last season’s issues with the addition of two genuine A-League strikers.
In any case, this was a memorable match. Hannah Wilkinson will end the round comfortably as a golden boot favourite, and joins Kate Gill as one of two players to score five times in an A-League Women’s match.
Whether or not this signals a return to the top for Melbourne City, it was definitely an afternoon to cherish for their fans.
Speaking after the game, City’s five-goal hero Hannah Wilkinson said: “We looked back against the game we played against Victory (a fortnight ago) and we studied hard what we needed to do. It was all there for us, we didn’t really create enough chances or finish them and today was a perfect example of a really unified and cohesive pressing strategy that we’ve been working hard on all pre-season.
“It was amazing. Our team was incredible and that is all a result of that work. They were all Melbourne City goals. All the preparation manifested itself in what came together today. It was exactly how we prepared.
“If you look at us, we’re all knackered now because we were pressing so hard. It was a team effort.
Melbourne City’s build-up to the game was impacted by one player testing positive on a rapid antigen covid test (lateral flow), and for Wilkinson the change in arrangements that caused “makes the win even sweeter. We face adversity and thought ‘never mind’, we went out there and did what we did and that tells you a lot about our team.”
Victory’s goalscorer Maja Markovski said: “I think from the minute the game started they wanted it more. We weren’t winning our individual duels and we got punished for it. We’ve got to take it and move on. It’s going to be really competitive to the end of the season, there’s heaps of good teams, but we’re excited for it.”
Teams: MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-2-3-1): Dumont, Nevin, Eliadis, Bunge, Doran-Cooney-Cross, Jackson, Williams, Chidiac, Privitelli, Zimmerman. Substitutes: Varli (GK), Robers, Murphy, Markovski, Mindy Barbieri.
Scorer: Markovski 84′.
MELBORUNE CITY (3-4-3): Melissa Barbieri, Tumeth, Checker, Heatley, Vlajnic, Stott, Davidson, Torpey, McNamara, Wilkinson, Pollicina. Substitutes: Majstorovic (GK), Malone, Blissett, McKenna, Thomas-Chinnama.
Scorers: Wilkinson 5′, 13′, 26′, 56′, 75′.
Referee: Lara Lee.
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