Melbourne Victory 1- 0 Canberra United
By Kieran Yap at CB Smith Reserve (31/12/22)
Above: Casey Dumont dives to save from Nikki Flannery. Photo: @gomvfc twitter
Melbourne Victory defeated Canberra United 1-0 in their last game of 2022 at CB Smith Reserve.
Jeff Hopkins’ side was forced into a number of changes to face Njegosh Popovich’s team who arrived in Melbourne looking to reverse their two-game losing streak. Victory were missing Claudia Bunge, and Gema Simon from defence, Elise Kellond-Knight from midfield, and in-form striker Melina Ayres from the attack.
Jessika Nash shifted to centre back to cover for Bunge. Tiffany Eliadis moved into the midfield to partner Alex Chidiac and Alana Murphy. Young Matilda and Bulleen Lions playmaker Paige Zois started for the first time this season, with Danish attacker Rikke Madsen playing as the centre forward.
Canberra United welcomed back Chloe Lincoln in goal, and Ellie Brush started for the first time since her knee injury for Sydney FC last year.
On a hot day, both sides started with intensity, looking to get an early lead and force the other to chase in the unforgiving conditions. Victory began with three quick crosses into the box, but without their familiar target of Ayres in the middle, Canberra were able to clear.
Melbourne almost took the lead through spectacular style. 17-year-old midfield general Alana Murphy lined up from almost 30 yards and her shot had the crowd ready to celebrate. It only just missed the target but was an effort that is becoming typical of the fan favourite.
Michelle Heyman responded for the visitors. The Canberra captain stole the ball from Kayla Morrison and raced into the box, but her shot was dragged wide of the far post.
The two sides played with contrasting styles. Victory looked to attack in numbers, and give themselves options in attack while pressing to keep the ball there. Canberra United used their pace and passing range to launch long counterattacks.
Heyman found Grace Jale behind the Victory defence, and the home side was rescued by a terrific save from Casey Dumont.
One of the more intriguing battles of the day was Michelle Heyman versus Jess Nash. The 18-year-old centre-back was up against the club where she made her name two seasons ago. Heyman was constantly dangerous as usual, and when she got goal side caused the home crowd to hold their breath or cover their eyes. But Nash performed well against very strong opposition and her performance was crucial to the win.
For most of the first half, both sides struggled to convert their chances, until Paige Zois and Alex Chidiac combined in the 44th minute.
Zois received the ball wide on the left, flanked by Canberra midfielders. She only needed a moment to slice open the defence with a perfectly placed through ball for Chidiac to run onto. She ran as close to goal as possible to make it certain and drilled it hard and low past Lincoln to give Melbourne the lead.
Chidiac is so often the supplier of magic passes. This time she got to be on the end of one.
Victory’s hero of the day was Dumont. She ensured that Victory went into half-time in the lead after another brilliant save to deny Vesna Milivojevic.
It was just one in a series of match-winning saves from the Victory keeper. Heyman created a seemingly easy chance for Nikki Flannery, but Dumont’s dive denied an almost certain goal.
She stepped up once again to stop Jale from the other side, before being rescued by the crossbar from another Flannery effort. Canberra was trying every sort of attack from every angle and area but could not beat Dumont.
That was the pattern of the second half, Canberra attacked, and Dumont denied. It was a hard-fought win by the home side, and their fourth in a row. It was another tough loss by Canberra United who outplayed Victory for much of the game, but could not find the net.
Teams: MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-3-3): Dumont, Tathem, Nash, Morrison, Goad, Murphy, Eliadis, Zois, Chidiac, Privitelli, Madsen. Substitutes: Jackson, Markovski, Briedis, Curtis, Maizels.
Scorer: Chidiac 44’.
CANBERRA UNITED (4-1-4-1): Lincoln, Grove, McComasky, Brush, Ilijoski, Flannery, Milivojevic, Maher, Jale, Heyman. Substitutes: Christopherson, Gett, Murray, Segavic, Taylor-Young.
Referee: Isabella Blaess
Attendance: 412 at CB Smith Reserve.