By Joey Lynch
Melbourne Victory W-League coach Jeff Hopkins has combined praise of an “amazing” Lisa De Vanna following his side’s thumping, 6-0 Melbourne Derby win with an ominous warning for the rest of the competition: he’s got no idea how good Victory are going to get.
Displaying a fearless press right from the opening exchanges — despite the oppressive heat — Victory opened the scoring in the battle for Melbourne supremacy after just 15 minutes on Sunday afternoon when Kiwi international Annelie Longo was played in by De Vanna to slide a shot home.
Although City wasn’t without their chances, a close-range Melina Ayres effort on the half-hour mark made it 2-0 heading into halftime, before a sublime solo run and shot from a rampant De Vanna in the 72nd minute opened the floodgates for Amy Jackson, Catherin Zimmerman and Kyra Cooney-Cross to turn the procession into a route.
Running with vile and venom every time she saw the ball, attacking empty spaces between City’s lines without it and serving as a vocal leader for her teammates, De Vanna looked every bit the player who has earned 150 caps and scored 47 goals for the Matildas on Sunday, and Hopkins was full of praise for the attacker post-game.
“She’s definitely an amazing individual,” he said. “But I think one of the most important things with her, you can see she’s really popular in the group and she drives the quality and the intensity.
“I’m really pleased for her, against one of her old clubs to score and I think you could see how happy the rest of the team were for her when she put the ball in the back of the net.”
The 6-0 defeat mires City to their worst ever start to a season with just a single point from a possible nine and supersedes the club’s 5-2 loss to Perth Glory in round four of the 2018/19 season as its heaviest ever.
Having lost every member of the XI that won the 2019/20 Grand Final, the club had been expected to start the 2020/21 W-League season slowly. Midfielder Alex Chidiac, who was subbed on for the final 30 minutes, had only exited quarantine the day prior, while Japanese international Chinatsu Kira and defenders Jenna McCormick and Samantha Johnson are still rapidly attempting to find fitness and continuity. Defender Emma Checker, still recovering from injury, has yet to play a game.
However, the same lack of continuity can also be said to be found at Victory – with players such as Ayres, Zimmerman, goalkeeper Gaby Garton, Polly Doran and Natalie Martineau having been recruited from Victorian NPLW clubs that had their 2020 seasons cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even De Vanna barely played any football for Fiorentina in 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdowns in Italy.
Menacingly for the rest of the W-League, that means that Hopkins — who became the first W-League coach to reach the 100 game mark in the win — still doesn’t know how good his side can become; saying that Sunday’s performance was nowhere near close to the best performance a Victory side has produced during his tenure.
“Best result? Probably,” he said. “But there are still things there, and I’ll say it to the players, there are still things that we can do better and we can improve on. Obviously, it’s a big result for us, a great result for us to beat a team like City with this scoreline but we’ve just got to keep our feet on the ground now and we play them again this week and it all starts again next week.
“I think we can keep the ball a lot better. We were a bit sloppy at times. We gave the ball away at times when we didn’t need to. We maybe tried to play forward at times when we didn’t need to and then there were other times we could have gone more direct and we didn’t. So general decision making in possession of the ball probably.
“I don’t know [how good this side can be], to be honest. I’m excited.
“One of the things I’ll say to the players is that good thing for me is that I don’t think… we’re a long way off from being at our best and we can still do this to City today so let’s try and just make improvements in these areas, keep getting better and better each week and who knows where it can take us.”
Thanks to the havoc border closures have wrought on the W-League fixture, Victory and City are set to lock horns once again next Sunday afternoon, this time at Epping Stadium.
Having also experienced a slow start in Bundoora in his first season in charge during the 18/19 campaign, when late-arriving players saw City record just a single win in their first four weeks on the way to missing finals for the only time in club history, Rado Vidošić said he wouldn’t be seeking to bring fire and fury to the training track in an attempt to engineer a quick turnaround in form.
Instead, the 59-year-old urged perspective, saying that 2020/21 marked the start of what he hoped to be a multi-year project of retaining a young group of players now assembled at City and bringing them up through the system.
“[I’ll] put an arm around them and just try to show them all the good quality clips, because there were some good quality moments in our game,” he said. “We could have scored a few goals, we probably didn’t deserve not to score a goal.
“And to be honest, some of these girls are a bit intimidated because they’ve never played at this level so we need to give them a few games to get used to it, the opponents and the speed. Some haven’t played since September 2019 and our first game was against Brisbane, the second game against Canberra, this Melbourne Victory. Three of the best teams in the competition alongside Sydney FC and we had to face them all in the first rounds.
“We should not be jumping to any conclusions and start kicking and chasing and not playing the way we want to play because we want to keep a lot of these girls in the years ahead and it wouldn’t be fair to them to not try.
“Unfortunately, it’s a bit tough at the moment but the season is quite long and we should have enough opportunities to track some of the other teams. And then we can assess how far we have progressed and how far we have moved forward.”