The third Melbourne derby of the season was the most consequential. A place in the Grand Final was at stake and both sides has very different build ups to the game.
City were missing Tyla-Jay Vlajnic and iconic goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri. After losing 4-2 to Sydney FC last week, they needed a response for losing their first final ever.
Victory welcomed back Matildas Star Kyra Cooney-Cross. The team that defeated Adelaide United 2-1 in a slight upset were strengthened by the reigning PFA Young Player of the Year.
Melina Ayres had the first chance of the game. The ball dropped for her directly in front of goal but her half volley bounced wide with Sally James beaten.
Rebekah Stott brought the best out of Casey Dumont with a curling strike from distance. The Victory keeper saved athletically as both sides fought for control.
Alex Chidiac collected the ball in space behind the City defence. James stood tall in the one on one and the scores stayed level.
Melina Ayres opened the scoring with her second goal of this finals series. After winning the ball at the edge of the area, she burst towards goal and finished calmly on her left foot.
On the stroke of half time Claudia Bunge tapped home Courtney Nevin’s corner kick to double the lead.
Lia Privitelli extended the lead to 3-0 after Chidiac’s persistence and Ayres composure tee’d up the captain to score for the second week in a row.
City pulled a goal back with ten minutes to play. Tori Tumeth bundled home a corner to increase the frame in the dying minutes as Victory raced home to another grand final appearance.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WEEK?
Victory travel to Sydney for a Grand Final for the second season in a row. After one of the most physically challenging seasons in A-League history, Jeff Hopkins’ side can retain their title as Champions.
Sydney has had a week’s break after their epic semi final win. However, Victory is currently in the best form since the opening rounds of the season.
After the drama of last year’s decider, we are poised for another memorable Grand Final.
CITY’S SEASON IS OVER, BUT NOT A FAILURE
City have lost two knockout games for the first time in their history. However Rado Vidosic has rebuilt this team almost instantly after finishing second last in 2020/21.
They challenged for the title right until the last week of the season, and unearthed two potential Matildas in Holly McNamara and Winonah Heatley.
From the resurgence of Melissa Barbieri to the return of Rebekah Stott, and the five goal haul of Hannah Wilkinson, this has been a season filled with highlights.
Not many pre-season predictions had City in the top four. They will be disappointed with this game, but they should be proud of their campaign.
DEPTH UNDOES CITY
Melbourne City had the class and talent to get this far in the season. However, with injuries and suspensions they did not have the depth on the bench to recover from being 2-0 down at half time.
Victory had a first choice eleven available and a bench strong enough to leave Melinda J Barbieri out of the squad all together.
Without Vlajnic they weee missing a crucial creative outlet on the left. The architect of City’s 5-1 derby win, Holly McNamara was missing.
Victory’s half time lead proved unassailable and they were able to rest the talismanic Amy Jackson with 20 minutes to play.
CHIDIAC MADE FOR BIG MOMENTS
The Victory playmaker looked to involve herself at every opportunity. Her tenacity, close control and attacking intent were obvious from the opening whistle.
She would have expected a goal from a chance in the opening minutes, but was dangerous and persistent all match.
Chidiac’s style of play is perfect for finals football. She is a player who thrives on the big occasion and causes panic with the ball at her feet.
She is an artist and a work horse. An elite talent who has put her stamp on this team and this season.
Melbourne Victory 3 Melina Ayres (31m) Claudia Bunge (45m) Lia Privitelli (53m)
Melbourne City 1 Tori Tumeth (80m)