Connors strike puts the kibosh on Victory’s finals hopes

Melbourne Victory 1-1 Brisbane Roar

By Kieran Yap (26/3/23)

Above: Shea Connors, Sharn Freier, and Hollie Palmer celebrate Brisbane Roar’s goal. Photo: Liberty A-League.

A Shea Connors strike and some late heroics from Hensley Hancuff have earned Brisbane Roar a 1-1 draw away to Melbourne Victory.

The home side entered this round in fourth spot, but in need of a win to maintain some distance between themselves and the resurgent Canberra United. Brisbane had only pride to play for. Their win over Western United having been overturned, but the played like a team with everything on the line. 

This match had the energy and intensity of a finals match, and in some ways was a tactical wrestle between the minds on the bench, as much as the players on the pitch. 

Brisbane were without Larissa Crummer. In the absence of the Matilda, Brisbane set up with five players in midfield and opted for Connors as the sole attacker. Victory started with a midfield trio of Amy Jackson, Tiffany Eliadis and Alana Murphy. Paige Zois was unavailable, leaving the midfield light on experienced options. 

Neither team truly dominated the early stages of the match, but Brisbane denied Victory time on the ball. When the Roar were in possession, they acted quickly, trying to find Connors behind Kayla Morrison and Claudia Bunge. 

It appeared early on that they were missing a final link between midfield and the striker, and when youngster Kijah Stephenson went off injured, it looked like things had gotten tougher. 

Despite this early setback, Brisbane hit the lead in the 29th minute. Connors played the ball to Shark Freier and then took off toward goal and full pace. Freier’s return pass was well weighted and Connors was suddenly behind the Victory back line. This situation has meant danger for most A-League defences over the last two months and Connors sped into the box and shot over Casey Dumont from an acute angle.

Dumont was able to get a have to the looping shot, but it was not enough to keep it out of the net. Connors had scored her fourth goal in as many games. 

Victory responded soon after through the ever-dependable Amy Jackson. The veteran midfielder charged into the box and drew a foul. The referee pointed to the spot, and Melina Ayres made no mistake with the penalty kick. 

The second half saw Victory with most of the attacks, but the outnumbered midfield looked rushed under Roar’s pressure. 

Lia Privitelli was brought on to inject some directness and pace out wide. She made an impact and drew some good saves out of Hensley Hancuff, but could not beat the in-form American.

Victory continued to push for the winning goal, but Roar absorbed the attacks. A header from a corner kick was blocked on the line, and then Hancuff’s diving effort denied Beattie Goad’s volley. 

The home side’s effort was admirable, but Roar rarely looked threatened. The threat of Connors upfront prevented them from going on the all-out attack in the dying stages.

Ayres looked the most dangerous for the home side, but was unable to find much space in front of goal. She was well-marshalled for the majority of the match. Alana Murphy was industrious in midfield and tried to turn the tide, but it was not Victory’s day.

The draw is not a disaster for Jeff Hopkins’s side, but it does take their finals position out of their own hands. Only goal difference separated them from Canberra United, and they face Wellington Phoenix away next week. 

That is a must-win game, and Victory will need a favour from Melbourne City, and Brisbane Roar next week to keep the chasing pack at bay. They have been specialists at grinding out the results when they need them so far, and should back themselves to close out the home and away campaign with a win.

On this occasion, they faced one of the league’s in-form strikers, and that one moment of brilliance is all it took to leave their season in the balance. 

They will reset, and approach Wellington like it is their first finals game of the season. In all effect, it is.

Brisbane’s performance was impressive. Palmer was the cool head in midfield, Freier was creative on the flank, and Norrie worked hard as always. They defended in numbers, and the evolution of Jamilla Rankin into a central defender seems to be working. Up front, they have the ability to trouble any defence. Garrath MacPherson’s squad was missing some big names, but still defended well and attacked with purpose.

On a more positive note for Victory, the active fan group announced their player of the season. The Victory Vikings awarded Beattie Goad as the winner of the Dumont Trophy.

The winger has been a consistently bright spark this season and her return to the A-League women has been a real success so far.

Teams: MELBOURNE VICTORY (4-3-3): Dumont, Morrison, Bunge, Nash, Tathem, Jackson, Eliadis, Murphy, Goad, Zimmerman, Ayres. Substitutes: Templeman, Privitelli, Markovski, Briedis, Curtis.

Scorer: Ayres (pen) 37’.

BRISBANE ROAR (4-5-1): Hancuff, Freier, Rankin, McQueen, Rasschaert, Norrie, Kruger, Riley, Palmer, Stephenson, Connors. Substitutes: Shuttleworth, Kramer, Levin, Davern, Robinne.

Scorer: Connors 29’.

Referee: Bec Mackie.

Attendance: 521.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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