Melbourne City 1-3 Melbourne Victory
By Kieran Yap (20/3/22)
Above: Melbourne Victory celebrate reaching another Grand Final after defeating their cross-city rivals Melbourne City in today’s Preliminary Final. Photo: Melbourne Victory.
Melbourne Victory have secured a Grand Final appearance against Premiers Sydney FC after a 3-1 win over Melbourne City in the Preliminary Final.
The last time that these teams met, City dealt out a 5-1 thrashing to their local rivals. Hannah Wilkinson scored a record-equalling five goals that day, and stopping the in-form striker would be a priority for Victory.
After one of the most challenging seasons in his tenure, Jeff Hopkins had his team on the precipice of another decider. Victory has had to deal with significant injuries, COVID outbreaks, and a schedule that had them playing seven games in 23 days leading up to finals.
For the first time since round one, he had a full squad to choose from. With Amy Jackson returning to her favoured midfield position and Melina Ayres starting for the second week in a row, Victory had a familiar structure about them.
City had given up a two-goal lead against Sydney FC in the first semi-final. Crucially, they were missing Tyla-Jay Vlajnic and Melissa Barbieri. Both players were among City’s best this season, Vlajnic is both creative and experienced as a left-back, while Barbieri must be a contender as player of the season for the whole competition.
The opening stages of the match saw both sides attacking quickly, scoring first would be vital for either side. Melina Ayres had the first chance of the game. The ball bounced awkwardly on the recently watered pitch and fell beyond the City defence.
Ayres took an extra touch for control and tried to find the back post with her stabbed shot on goal. Sally James was beaten but it skidded wide of the goal. Rebekah Stott fired back for City with a long range effort that Casey Dumont saved in spectacular fashion.
Alex Chidiac was busy early, late, and all of the minutes in between. She seemed as surprised as the City defenders when she received the ball behind them and somehow onside.
James was quick to react and close down the space, what looked like a certain goal was another missed opportunity for Victory.
While City were able to move the ball forward, the back four of Victory were able to repel the attacks fairly consistently. They do not play a high line or flirt with off-side traps very often. Jeff Hopkins’ side plays a good, disciplined back four. They get goal side of the attackers and close to them. Rhianna Pollicina was unable to turn and face goal as often as normal and Wilkinson struggled to find space with international teammate Claudia Bunge paying close attention.
Ayres opened the scoring for Victory on the half-hour mark. She intercepted an Emma Checker pass and acted quickly, bursting into the area and sweeping her shot past James to make it 1-0.
Victory fans have waited all season for Ayres to return to the squad. She had a breakout season last year and after dominating with South Melbourne in the NPLW there was real anticipation about what she could produce in 2021/22.
A persistent hamstring injury has kept her out of the side until the final round of the regular season. She scored what turned out to be the winning goal against Adelaide United in the semi-final and her goal in the Preliminary Final proved that it was worth the wait.
Catherine Zimmerman almost doubled the lead after Lia Privitelli found her with a perfect low cross. City could consider themselves fortunate when the ball flew over the bar.
The second goal arrived at the worst time for City but the best time for Victory. In the closing moments of the first half, Courtney Nevin’s corner fell invitingly at the back post and Bunge was on hand to finish from close range.
Victory continued to attack in the second half. Chidiac was tireless and creative and had the City players under pressure in possession and back pedalling when she was on the attack.
She was predictably involved in Victory’s third goal. She got the ball to Ayres in the penalty area who turned it into the path of Privitelli. The captain shot over James to make it 3-0 and give City a mountain to climb with the clock ticking towards the hour mark.
City had to attack and left themselves open to the counter-attack. Privitelli had the chance to make it four after a swift counter-attack but James saved well in the one-on-one situation.
Minutes later, City had a lifeline. Leticia McKenna sent in an excellent corner kick and Tori Tumeth headed well past Dumont. There were 10 minutes left on the clock, but crazier things have happened in the Dub.
Victory fans were still reluctant to celebrate early, and Hannah Wilkinson reminded them why when she got on the end of a Pollicina free kick in the 85th minute. She had found space, was well-positioned but her effort narrowly missed the target.
That was the last clear chance of the game. Melbourne City’s season was over and although they slumped to the turf after the whistle they should be proud of their season. After finishing seventh in 2020/21 they had climbed to second. They played some spectacular football and introduced some new stars to the game.
Tori Tumeth and Kaitlyn Torpey in particular announced themselves as exciting new talents, while Winonah Heatley and Holly McNamara received Matildas call ups. Rhianna Pollicina is a much-improved player, adding frightening consistency to her considerable talent.
But the day belonged to Victory and they have a chance to retain the Championship. Jeff Hopkins’ side has overcome every challenge thrown their way this season and will have no fear of facing the Premiers. Sydney will be undoubtedly looking for revenge after last year’s dramatic last gasp extra-time defeat from the right foot of Kyra Cooney-Cross.
Both of these teams boast significant depth and brilliant talent in their squads. Neither has made the Grand Final by chance. Everything has led to next week’s match. Like last season’s decider, it is almost certain to be another classic.
Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (3-4-3): James, Tumeth, Checker, Heatley, Davidson, Stott, Torpey, Blissett, McKenna, Wilkinson, Pollicina. Substitutes: Karic, Majstorovic (GK), Malone, Thomas-Chinnama, van der Meer.
Scorer: Tumeth 80′.
MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-3-3): Dumont, Nevin, Hendrix, Bunge, Doran, Chidiac, Jackson, Cooney-Cross, Zimmerman, Ayres, Privitelli. Substitutes: Eliadis, Maizels (GK), Markovski, Murphy, Withers.
Scorers: Ayres 30′, Bunge 45+2′, Privitelli 53′.
Referee: Casey Reibelt.