Melbourne Victory 0-0 Canberra United
Above: Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Casey Dumont comes out to claim ahead of Canberra United’s Michelle Heyman. Photo: Melbourne Victory.
By Kieran Yap (5/3/22)
Melbourne Victory hosted Canberra United with their finals hopes in the balance. It had been just over a week since the sides last met in a dramatic 2-2 draw and a similar result would likely be enough for Victory to finish fourth.
Despite the precarious position, Jeff Hopkins did not start with anything that could be mistaken for a defensive side. Canberra arrived with nothing to play for but pride, and what resulted was an end-to-end game that had both coaches and the AAMI Park crowd on edge.
Victory’s first chance arrived from the artistry of Kyra Cooney-Cross. Deployed in a more attacking role, she had free reign alongside Alex Chidiac. She twisted and turned on the edge of the box before threading a ball through to Catherine Zimmerman. Chloe Lincoln did very well to come out and save at her feet.
Allira Toby fired Canberra United’s first shot. She raced in on goal and cut inside, but her shot was not enough to test Casey Dumont. The Victory keeper was a surprise inclusion after leaving the field on a stretcher against Adelaide United, and showed her value on multiple occasions this afternoon.
Alex Chidiac thought she had scored with a spectacular effort. Her corner kick swung inward and dipped under the bar. It bounced off the far post and both her and Lia Privitelli were in half-celebration before they realized it did not cross the line.
Chidiac tried again after combining with Cooney-Cross. She twisted one way, then the other but her Lincoln was positioned well to claim it.
It was an enthralling, thrilling contest that did nothing to sooth the nerves of Victory fans. There was plenty of space but both sides’ defenders were playing well individually. Lauren Keir has been essential to Canberra United’s late-season resurgence and was on hand on multiple occasions to make life difficult for the talented attack.
For Victory, Cooney-Cross was tormenting the Canberra defence. The visitors had their own weapon in Michelle Heyman. The captain received the ball wide on the right in a crossing position. Instead, she cut inside, then changed direction despite having no obvious space to do so. Dumont got down to deny her a potential goal of the week.
Victory introduced Harriet Withers and the long-awaited Melina Ayres in the second half. Ayres’ impact was almost instant, she nearly turned a cross in but her half-volleyed through ball to Withers was a reminder of her considerable talent. Withers raced in to goal but Lincoln saved very well from a position where scoring looked certain.
Heyman had fired up for the visitors. She took the direct route and burs through Canberra’s defence. Her shot was right at Dumont and Victory fans were able to pick their hearts up off the floor.
Victory had two more chances to take the lead. Cooney-Cross hit the woodwork after making space in midfield. Her long-range shot beat Lincoln but crashed off the post.
Ayres was almost the hero late but just missed Withers’ cross with a diving effort. The game ended in a draw and Victory’s players did not celebrate immediately.
Either they were unaware it was enough to get them through to the finals or they were exhausted after one of the most gruelling schedules in domestic football history.
With Ayres back, and two central defenders they suddenly look a much more functional team with depth and tactical options on the bench. That Melinda Barbieri was not included in a very strong matchday squad is a signal of what Hopkins has at his disposal.
It has been a rough season on the Victory players and they can now hopefully have a few days off to unwind and recover properly.
Canberra lost no admirers in this game. They were exciting and adventurous. The defence has finally settled after early-season difficulties and Vicki Linton has clearly worked out the best mix in attack. Heyman did was she always does, which is paradoxically something we haven’t seen before.
This is not their last game scheduled this season, but she must go on another year on the strength of her recent performances. Canberra suddenly look a very good side and are victims of the short season.
Teams: MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-3-3): Dumont, Nevin, Hendrix, Bunge, Doran, Chidiac, Eliadis, Murphy, Cooney-Cross, Zimmerman, Privitelli. Substitutes: Ayres, Maizels (GK), Markovski, Withers, Zois.
CANBERRA UNITED (4-2-3-1): Lincoln, Ilijoski, Keir, Haran, Vidmar, Hughes, Maher, Grove, Washington, Toby, Heyman. Substitutes: Caspers, Esposito (GK), Karrys-Stahl, Middleton, Robinne.
Referee: Rebecca Mackie.