Sydney FC 1-2 Melbourne Victory
Report By Ben Gilby – EXCLUSIVE photos from pitchside at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium from Kris Goman (27/3/22)
Above: Melbourne Victory celebrate their Grand Final win over Sydney FC today. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus
Despite Sydney FC dominating the vast majority of the Grand Final, it was Melbourne Victory who crucially took their chances to retain their A-League Women’s Champions crown in front of a vocal crowd of over 5,000 at Kogarah.
Melbourne Victory have now become only the second team to win back-to-back Grand Finals in the competition’s history, following their cross-city rivals Melbourne City, who won three in a row from 2016 to 2018. Victory’s win also means that only Sydney’s Grand Final victory of 2019 breaks the Melbourne pair’s stranglehold on Grand Final wins which goes back to 2014.
Both teams went into the decider with the same squad as played in their previous Finals match, but Sydney made two changes to their starting line-up from last week’s Preliminary Final win over Melbourne City. Cortnee Vine came in to start for Paige Satchell with teenager Sarah Hunter also stepping up for Rachel Lowe who joined Satchell on the bench.
Sydney were on top from the start. With just 40 seconds on the clock, Victory goalkeeper Casey Dumont’s attempted clearance only found Princess Ibini on the left. Her effort was deflected narrowly wide of the near post for a corner. Hawkesby’s flag-kick went to the back post towards Hunter who earned a second consecutive corner. This time, Dumont had to backpedal furiously, with a clearance only going as far as Nat Tobin who headed narrowly over.
Victory mounted their first cohesive attack with 11 minutes on the clock and earned a corner on the right. Alex Chidiac’s set-piece swung in viciously towards the back post and needed Ally Green to volley it away first time on the line with goalkeeper Jada Whyman left clutching at thin air under heavy traffic.
The thrilling start continued as Sydney responded instantly. Ibini found Remy Siemsen on the right outside her who cut in and fired in an effort which Dumont pushed away for a corner. Cortnee Vine was available slightly to Siemsen’s right, but whether Impetus‘ A-League Women Player of the Year would have had any better luck is now a moot point.
Just after the half-hour mark, Ibini showed her the threat again as the forward broke through before playing a one-two with Hawkesby but it was saved by Dumont’s feet with the ball rebounding back towards the line before finally being cleared by Brooke Hendrix at the cost of a corner.
Ibini was involved once more afterwards when a disastrous clearance from Dumont went straight to her just outside the box. The 22-year-old found Siemsen who was offside when slotting the ball into the net.
There was one final chance for Sydney as the clock ticked towards 45 minutes. A long ball from the right found Hawkesby unmarked in the middle of the box and her goalbound header was superbly tipped over by Dumont. The midfielder took the resulting corner which curled over everyone and came off the base of the far post before being scrambled away.
Whilst Sydney ended the opening half significantly ahead on the possession and territory count, they were unable to translate it to a scoreboard lead. With the star-studded attack that Melbourne Victory possessed, the home team knew in the back of their minds that their opponents would have a spell at some point. It would come down to the team that took the chances that came their way.
Within three minutes of the re-start, Victory made the hosts pay. Melina Ayres won a corner from Nat Tobin. Courtney Nevin played it outside the box to Kyra Cooney-Cross who floated in an effort that was deflected back to her. The second attempt was a lofted ball towards the back post that was headed in by Amy Jackson.
Sydney responded strongly with Ibini and Hawkesby threatening and forcing crucial saves from Dumont.
The game which had always had a physical edge to it from the moment of Hunter’s death stare early on, became increasingly hard-fought as frustrations began to show in terms of reactions.
Try as Sydney might, it was Victory who had the ability to turn a rare offensive sortie into a goal once more as they doubled their advantage with 64 minutes played. Lia Privitelli fired in a low cross from the right which was sliced by Tobin and fell perfectly Ayres whose effort came off Charlize Rule’s arm and bounced into the path of Catherine Zimmerman to fire under Jada Whyman for 2-0.
Yet within moments, Sydney finally had the ball in the net. Hawkesby’s corner on the left was met by the head of Rule. Dumont parried into the path of Vine who fired home.
Melina Ayres then caused a major heart palpitation for Sydney keeper Whyman when she lifted a cross in which bounced high and needed to be palmed away for a corner. The resulting flag-kick from Nevin curled in and came cannoning back off of the crossbar.
Victory had another opportunity when they closed in on Whyman from Nevin’s latest corner. Under pressure, the Sydney goalkeeper punched the ball into her own net, but a free-kick was awarded.
Into the last ten minutes, the rain began to pour down and Sydney continued to push for an equalizer that would be the least they deserved on the balance of play. They could not find one. The Harbour City side had seven shots on target to Victory’s two, but it was the Melbourne side’s greater ability to turn those into goals that decided this encounter.
Victory captain Lia Privitelli spoke after the game, said: “I couldn’t be prouder. We’ve had a tough season, but we did it. Sydney were out here for revenge but we were out to retain it. I couldn’t be prouder of this team,
Her Sydney counterpart Nat Tobin was devastated: “One word – disappointing. We remained calm the whole time. We had the experience of coming from behind in the semi and when Cortnee (Vine) scored the goal to come back I thought ‘here we go’, but it didn’t work out. There’s not much more we can do better than win a Grand Final, and we need to do that now.”
Sydney FC head coach Ante Juric said: “It’s heart-breaking, the girls are devastated. They always pick themselves up. If you put everything into something and you lose, that’s still winning, and I truly believe that, because sometimes the score-line doesn’t reflect what actually happened. But that’s just life. They (our players) know they put everything into it and deserved to win, but we didn’t.”
Those with only a passing interest in the competition will look at the same two teams meeting in the Grand Final for the second season with the same outcome. Yet this season’s A-League Women has been far more than “same old”. It ignores the outstanding development at both Adelaide United and Perth Glory – two teams who are only going to get even better next season.
It’s important to remember that Melbourne Victory only qualified for the Finals due to having a superior goal difference from Perth Glory. They had to do it the hard way, winning three straight games away from home. It’s reward for a tough campaign that saw Jeff Hopkins’ side have to overcome injury issues and a spell of seven games in 23 days. They got their full-strength team back at the right time and gained the ultimate prize as a result.
Sydney FC had an outstanding season. For much of it, they were completely unplayable and easily the best team in the competition. They will need to channel the pain of another heartbreaking loss in the Grand Final. If they can keep the bulk of the squad together again and work closely on lessons learned from three consecutive defeats in the deciding game of the season, they will come back even more powerfully.
Kris Goman’s EXCLUSIVE Photo Gallery From Pitchside:
Teams: SYDNEY FC (4-3-3): Whyman, Rule, Mclean, Tobin, Green, Hunter, Ray, Hawkesby, Vine, Siemsen, Ibini. Substitutes: Offer (GK), Nash, Lowe, Rojas, Satchell.
Scorers: Vine 66′.
MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-3-3): Dumont, Doran, Bunge, Hendrix, Nevin, Cooney-Cross, Jackson, Chidiac, Zimmerman, Ayres, Privitelli. Substitutes: Maizels (GK), Eliadis, Murphy, Withers, Markovski.
Scorers: Jackson 49′, Zimmerman 64′.
Referee: Lara Lee.