Melbourne Victory have upstaged Melbourne City at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon, winning 3-1 to secure a place in the A-League Women’s Grand Final against Sydney FC.
First half goals from Melina Ayers and Claudia Bunge had Jeff Hopkins’ side leading comfortably at the break, before Lia Privitelli sealed their progression early in the second.
Tori Tumeth pulled one back late on with a close-range header from a corner, but in proved nothing more than a consolation.
While City had been the better side throughout the regular season – even defeating Victory 5-1 on Boxing Day – an ACL tear to breakout star Holly McNamara seemed to derail their campaign. Without the leadership of the suspended Melissa Barbieri and Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, the young group seemed to wilt under pressure from a more physical and direct Victory outfit.
Last week’s dismissals meant a starting debut between the sticks for Sally James, while the versatile Chelsea Blissett slotted in on the left flank. The two red-carded veterans were unable to enter the field of play, so City held their pre-match huddle next to their bench, with the pair leaning over the Western stand fence to be included.
Victory, meanwhile, replaced Tiff Eliadis with the returning Kyra Cooney-Cross in midfield: the only change from the team that defeated Adelaide United last Saturday.
Victory looked near-certain to take the lead after just 5 minutes as Ayers latched onto a Bunge pass over the top, but the usually clinical striker nudged the bouncing ball wide of the near post.
Ayers came close again in the 10th minute as another high ball eluded the City defence, dragging her first-time effort just wide from the edge of the penalty area.
A minute later, Rebecca Stott – given a special tribute before kick-off for her 100th A-League Women’s game – nearly capped the occasion with a spectacular goal, seeing her long-range curling effort tipped over the crossbar by a full-stretch Casey Dumont.
The best chance of the half came in the 15th minute as Ayers played an onside Alex Chidiac through on goal, splitting the entire City backline. However, Chidiac failed to outfox James in the one-on-one, shooting straight at the keeper.
And while it took her three attempts and thirty minutes to find her shooting boots, Melina Ayers was not to be denied. Emma Checker had more than enough time to find a teammate down the right flank, but dwelt on the ball before attempting a square pass to Heatley. Ayers flung out an opportunistic leg and intercepted, before shooting across goal from a narrow angle and finding the bottom corner. Pure #9 stuff.
Victory were running rampant, capitalising on every City error with extreme prejudice. The only thing missing was the finishing touch, with Catherine Zimmerman missing an open goal from a Lia Privitelli cross.
They finally doubled their advantage on the stroke of halftime, with Courtney Nevin’s in-swinging corner lofted over the pack and dropping invitingly at the back post. Bunge duly obliged, making contact with her outstretched leg ahead of Kaitlyn Torpey and turning the ball home.
With neither side making changes at the break, it was business as usual in the second half. Victory made it 3 in the 53rd minute, with Chidiac playing an integral role, shaking off two defenders to drive a low cross into the area. Ayers collected the loose ball after a ricochet, laying it off to Privitelli, who lifted the ball into the top corner from 12 yards. Privitelli led a conga line of celebrating teammates all the way to the Victory bench to celebrate, with their place in the decider sealed.
After Tumeth’s goal in the 80th minute, Hannah Wilkinson could’ve set up a grandstand finish, but the New Zealander glanced her header wide from a Rhianna Pollicina free kick.
Victory will now turn their attentions to the decider: a replay of last season’s Grand Final against Sydney FC at Kogarah. Could they pull off what looked improbable, and go back to back?