Stunning Victory in the game that had it all

Melbourne City 3-3 Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory win 4-1 on penalties

Above: Melbourne Victory celebrate their penalty shoot-out victory in today’s sensational Elimination Final. Photo: Keep Up.

by Ben Gilby (15/4/23).

Melbourne Victory have defeated cross-city rivals Melbourne City in an absolute thriller of an encounter at a sodden Casey Fields today.

This was an extraordinary game that went one way then the other, contained a 19-minute Melina Ayres hat-trick, a penalty miss to level the scores in the 88th minute, and then an equalising goal in the last second of stoppage time in the second half. Quite simply, it was immense.

City as usual dominated the possession stats – 68% to 32% with 713 passes made to Victory’s 328 – but ultimately possession means nothing, it’s whether you can use it to score more goals than the opposition.

Dario Vidosic named Holly McNamara in his starting line-up after his young star, just back from her ACL injury, returned early from international duty with the Matildas in England over Easter. She would go on to have an impressive afternoon in a match that was a feisty, physical Elimination Final and Melbourne derby.

It was Victory who had the game’s opening chance with less than two minutes on the clock. Alana Murphy stood over a free-kick just outside the ‘D’, slightly to the left of centre. The set piece bounced just in front of City keeper Melissa Barbieri on the right-hand post, but the experienced shot-stopper produced an excellent save to push it wide.

Dario Vidosic’s side responded with Julia Grosso striding along the left-hand side before delivering a ball into the box that fell perfectly for McNamara. The young gun looked for all the world as if she would score as she hit a goal-bound shot on the edge of the six-yard box but reckoned without a sensational save from Victory keeper Casey Dumont who followed the flight of the ball and stayed tall in front of McNamara to deny the attacker.

Just after the half-hour mark, each side had a further chance. First, it was Victory as Catherine Zimmerman hit over the bar from close range after Barbieri mishandled a cross. Then, McNamara showed her pace to get through, but Kayla Morrison was able to get a toe in to avert the danger.

Above: Rhianna Pollicina (center) celebrates her goal with Emma Checker and Cote Rojas. Photo: Keep Up.

Just four minutes before the break, City hit the front as Nat Tathem lost possession in the midfield to Rhianna Pollicina who laid off to McNamara outside her to the right. McNamara advanced and delivered a low square ball which was met by Pollicina just outside the six-yard box to direct into the net.

Victory stepped it up after the break. Five minutes in, Goad’s corner from the right flicked on and Elidias’ back header came back off the bar before City cleared at the second attempt.

Within a minute though, they were level as referee Lara Lee pointed to the spot after Naomi Chinnama was adjudged to have brought down Goad with the ball gone. Up stepped Melina Ayres to slot into the right-hand corner of the net.

City looked to hit back just after the hour mark, and Dani Galic was found by Pollicina on a square pass across the outside of the box. The 16-year-old played in Kaitlyn Torpey who ran onto the ball and hit a first-time shot that came off the top of the bar.

Victory were having more luck in pressing the Sky Blues’ defence and within moments of Torpey’s shot, they hit the front. Barbieri’s short clearance was played back into the box between two would-be Victory attackers, and Emma Checker’s resulting clearance fell straight to Goad around 10 yards outside the box. She found Ayres who in turn looked for Alana Murphy who was tackled but the ball fell perfectly for Ayres to drill a low shot first time into the right-hand corner.

The Melbourne Victory attacker’s sensational second half continued as she completed an astonishing 19-minute hat-trick. Once more it was Goad involved as she delivered a high diagonal ball in from the left flank that Checker could only head back towards the waiting Ayres who was in space, took the ball down, and fired into the far corner. With 20 minutes remaining, Victory were 3-1 ahead.

Above: Melbourne Victory hat-trick hero Melina Ayres celebrates at Casey Fields. Photo: Keep Up.

However, if anyone thought City would just lie down, they would be in for a rude awakening, as within six minutes, they were back in the game as Grosso delivered a high ball into the mix from the left-hand side after being fed by McNamara. Bryleeh Henry and Hannah Wilkinson went up for the header with the former directing a ball that dropped for Pollicina in the centre of the 18-yard box. The City striker reacted quicker than the Victory defence to turn and drive a shot home.

Victory were looking to screen off the City attack as the hosts looked to force an equaliser. With four minutes remaining, in the face of a busy box, McNamara hit a shot from outside of the box that curled agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.

The drama ratcheted up another notch with two minutes of normal time remaining as McNamara broke along the left and Claudia Bunge handled her cross with referee Lee pointing instantly to the spot. McNamara placed the ball but Dumont dived to her left and saved.

With seven minutes of stoppage time indicated, City pressed with Katie Bowen turning and driving a shot wide. With two seconds of additional time remaining on the clock, Torpey hit a shot from outside the box that took a deflection off of Kayla Morrison and cannoned up into the air, falling for the onrushing Wilkinson to beat Dumont in the air and head home. It was 3-3 and we were into an additional thirty minutes of drama.

Whilst extra time contained no goals, it did bring more stunning saves from Dumont and a red card – something that was always likely given the physical nature of the game. Victory’s Amy Jackson had been walking the tightrope for some time on a yellow card and could well have seen red in the second half for a challenge. Just two minutes into the second period of extra time, Jackson trod down on Pollicina’s foot and Lara Lee pulled out the second yellow.

Dumont excelled herself, saving McKenna’s long-range effort, and then in stoppage time at the end of the additional half-hour, making a superb one-handed save to turn Pollicina’s powerful shot around the post.

The Victory goalkeeper’s heroics would not end there as the game went into a penalty shoot-out. It was Dumont who dispatched the first penalty before taking her place between the sticks to save Bowen’s opening effort for City. Ayres, Pollicina, and Maja Markovski all converted their spot kicks before Wilkinson saw hers hit the bar for City.

It meant that 17-year-old Alana Murphy had the opportunity to seal the win for Victory. There were no nerves apparent as the youngster stepped up and blasted her kick home.

This was a game that had it all – goals galore, staggering comebacks, individual brilliance, and high drama. This is why we love the A-League Women, and the season isn’t done yet.

Melbourne Victory will now travel to the losers of tomorrow’s Sydney FC v Western United semi-final next Saturday for the Preliminary Final. Strap yourself in, we’re in for a thrilling ride.

Teams: MELBOURNE CITY (4-3-3): Barbieri, Torpey, Chinnama, Checker, Grosso, Galic, McKenna, Bowen, Pollicina, Rojas, McNamara. Substitutes: Accardo, Blissett, Henry, James (GK), Wilkinson.

Scorers: Pollicina 41′, 78′. Wilkinson 90+7′.

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

Scorers: Ayres 53′, 67′, 72′.

Referee: Lara Lee.

Attendance: 742.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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