Above: Scenes of joy for Melbourne Victory at their late comeback. Photo: Melbourne Victory.
Melbourne Victory 2-2 Sydney FC
By Kieran Yap at the City Vista Recreation Reserve (17/2/22)
Sydney FC made a rare trip outside of New South Wakes to face Melbourne Victory in a rematch of last season’s Grand Final and a possible preview to this season’s.
The league leaders have become accustomed to not only winning but winning without conceding goals. Sydney FC had a full-strength starting 11 and were missing only Paige Satchell and Maria Rojas who were both away on international duty.
Melbourne Victory were coming off their best performance of the season so far. The 5-0 defeat of Western Sydney Wanderers last week was on the foundation of them having key players in their preferred positions, and Kyra Cooney-Cross returning to an attacking role after Matildas duty and serving a suspension for a red card.
For this clash, Jeff Hopkins was back to plugging gaps in the team. It is something that he has become very good at this season and it should not be taken for granted. Claudia Bunge’s absence meant that Amy Jackson returned to central defence. This would be a test for Victory against one of the league’s most dangerous attacks.
Sydney started the match on the front foot. They dominated early possession and Victory seemed rushed in midfield. Alana Murphy was dominant for Melbourne against Newcastle two rounds prior, but up against Taylor Ray, Rachel Lowe and Mackenzie Hawkesby there much was less time and space for the youngster to direct play.
Lowe had the first real chance of the game, Hawkesby found her with a perfect chipped pass over the backline. She remained onside but the shot skimmed wide of the post. Casey Dumont was quick off her line to restrict the angle but Lowe would have expected to score.
Princess Ibini was next to try. The winger scored one of the goals of the season last weekend, but her trademark move did not have the same result in this game. She created the space well but hit it off target.
Nat Tobin hit the side netting with a well-struck effort on the turn and Siemsen’s attempt was on target but straight at Dumont.
Victory’s best chance of moving the ball was through Alex Chidiac, the playmaker was deployed in a deeper role than usual, although she may have just been following the play. Chidiacs ability to control instantly and carry the ball into space immediately relieves pressure on her side and it was important in a first half in which Victory were hanging on.
Kyra Cooney-Cross spent an anxious few minutes on the turf following a collision with multiple Sydney FC players. She was able to continue but looked restricted and dropped into midfield from the wing.
The game was an arm wrestle in the first half but roared into life in the second. Sydney opened the scoring with Ibini’s second goal in as many games. Polly Doran had the pace to match her and covered her favoured right foot as the Sydney FC winger dribbled into the area. With everybody expecting a cross or shot, she shifted the ball to her left and slide it past Dumont.
Ibini was the only player on the field to know what was going to happen. The goal was another brilliant individual effort and in its own way as good as her screamer against the Jets.
When Remy Siemsen scored Sydney’s second it looked for a moment like the floodgates might open. Charlize Rule received the ball in space and sent in a perfect cross. Siemsen was not exactly unmarked. She has a defender in front of her and behind her but the quality of the ball created an open header which she buried emphatically.
Things got tougher for Victory with Amy Jackson suffering an ankle injury. Tiffany Eliadis was brought on to replace her in her first defensive appearance since the loss to Melbourne City earlier in the year.
She performed well in trying circumstances. She played with a no-nonsense style when the ball was there to be won and her passing from the back helped drive Melbourne forward as they looked for a lifeline.
It arrived from the boot of Lia Privitelli. After Hawkesby and Lowe combined again with some neat, stylish passing, Melbourne went on the counter-attack. Courtney Nevin hit in a brilliant low cross that caused chaos in the Sydney penalty area.
Privtielli was on hand to force the ball over the line for her third goal of the season and her first since round one. It was the first goal that Sydney FC had conceded for 901 minutes.
Melbourne continued to press, Kyra Cooney-Cross tried her luck from long range but it dipped over the bar. As the game wore on, there was a feeling among the home support that a goal was coming.
It arrived in injury time, but was worth waiting for. A Chidiac corner bounced around a crowded defence until Catherine Zimmerman volleyed home on her left foot.
It was terrific technique and great composure to keep from skying it over the bar.
Chidiac and Paige Zois almost found a way to a winner when they combined on the left. The resulting corner fell to Nevin but it was too high for her to direct her header on target.
From 2-0 down to the league leaders without their starting centre-back, and then without their backup centre-back, Victory had clawed a result against the best team in the competition.
Sydney’s nine-game streak of clean sheets is over, but they still remain unbeaten this season and are the most likely to finish on top.
Victory play again on the weekend, where they meet Perth Glory. There will be concerns over the fitness of Cooney-Cross and Jackson seems an unlikely inclusion.
Teams: MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-3-3): Dumont, Nevin, Jackson, Hendrix, Doran, Chidiac, Murphy, Barbieri, Zimmerman, Markovski, Cooney-Cross. Substitutes: Eliadis, Maizels (GK), Privitelli, Withers, Zois.
Scorers: Privitelli 68′, Zimmerman 90+2′.
SYDNEY FC (4-3-3): Whyman, Green, Tobin, Mclean, Rule, Hawkesby, Ray, Lowe, Ibini, Siemsen, Vine. Substitutes: Franco (GK), Hristodoulou, Hunter, Nash, Stanic-Floody.
Scorers: Ibini 50′, Siemsen 60′.
Referee: Rachael Mitchenson.