Sydney FC has beaten Melbourne City in stunning style to confirm their spot in the grand final, in a match that featured extra time, six goals and two red cards.
It was the home side who made the stronger start with positive midfield rotations and combinations perplexing their opponents.
Rachel Lowe had the chance to make it three goals from a trio of games against City this campaign in the 9th minute, where she found herself in a close-range 1v1 against Melissa Barbieri, but her shot was tame and she couldn’t give the sky blues an early advantage.
Melbourne City eased themselves into the game and almost found the opening through a powerful shot from Tyla-Jay Vlajnic destined for the top left corner, but a stunning save from Sydney goalkeeper Jada Whyman kept the score level.
However, City did find the breakthrough in the 21st minute, after a mistake from captain Natalie Tobin allowed Hannah Wilkinson to steal in and steer the ball home from close range against a stranded Whyman.
After a quiet end to the first half, City doubled their lead, with Wilkinson completing his brace after a clever finish from an intelligent ball to the near post from Leticia McKenna.
Sydney then halved City’s advantage in the 73rd minute, with a smart, guided header from Vine finding the back of the net.
Vine almost made it two in the 81st minute after going 1 on 1 with Barbieri, but her shot rifled off the crossbar.
Five minutes later Vine made a lung-busting in behind and took the ball around City’s shot-stopper, but Vlajnic brought her down and received a red card for denying a clear and obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Sydney illustriously found an equaliser late on, with Chilean Cote Rojas striking from close range to take the game to extra time.
With the momentum, Sydney thrived, as they ran away with the match, as Sarah Hunter found the net with a header, Vine added a fourth with a composed finish and then the winger forced a handball from Barbieri see City reduced to nine.
SYDNEY SHOW STRENGTH IN COMEBACK
2-0 down in the 72nd minute, and all seemed lost for the sky blues. Vine was providing energy but without any real penetration, while the squad seemed flat and accepting of defeat.
But you can never count out the mentality and the strength of Sydney Football Club.
A clever steered header from Vine saw the sky blues half the deficit in the 73rd minute and allowed Sydney to really get into their usual groove of midfield rotations, Vine getting one on one and positive, pressing football.
But it didn’t seem to be enough for the home side, and they entered extra time ruing a challenge from Vlajnic which brought down Vine with an open net gaping in front of her.
Rojas, who has played a vital role throughout Sydney’s campaign deputising for Remy Siemsen, picked up a loose ball and hesitated – it seemed too long.
But a split second later, there was a cheer from the crowd, and the ball nestled in the net after a calm and composed finish from the Chilean.
With the game now swayed to the sky blues’ preference, they went ahead for the first time in extra time, with Sarah Hunter rising highest to thump a ferocious header home before Vine got her brace to close out the match for Sydney.
They sky blues showed strength and resistance after coming from two goals down, and then followed with composure and class with the advantage in extra time.
With a home grand final, they’ve confirmed themselves as early favourites to clinch the second double of their lifespan.
VINE-TIME COMES LATE
The big talking point prior to the match was Sydney’s Matildas star Cortnee Vine remaining on the bench, due to a calf strain picked up in previous weeks.
But despite the injury, Vine was as spritely as ever when entering the fray as a halftime substitution, replacing Paige Satchell.
Vine instantly provided a vertical outlet down the right flank for Sydney, with her teammates looking to often skip the midfield three to find her 1 on 1 down the right.
She provided good width and threat in 1 on 1s when play was on the opposite flank, and straight away threatened her opposition.
Vine brought Sydney well back into the match with a clever guided header in the 73rd minute, which was the icing on the cake to the energy, quality and clever running she brought to her side.
She was inches off adding a second to find the equaliser, before making the crucial run and touch in behind to lessen City to ten players, with Vlajnic cynically bringing down the winger, and picking up an injury in the process.
Vine made it a brace for herself to confirm the victory for Sydney after they ran away with the match, before getting a second City player sent off, with Barbieri handballing off the Matildas’ shot.
Vine was the game-changer for Sydney, scoring two and forcing two red cards for City, and there’s no doubt that she’ll need to be in this kind of firm to confirm the double for her side.
SECOND CHANCE SALOON
Not all is lost for Melbourne City, as they’ll have a chance to play the winner of the elimination final next weekend, which is staged between Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory at Coopers Stadium.
The series spells a different format from previously, with first-place taking on the runners up from the league table, and third playing fourth.
Sydney and City, as the top two teams following the conclusion of the season, went into this game without the darkness of knockout looming, but there are plenty of benefits for Sydney FC as the winning side.
They’ll get a week’s break, will get to host the grand final, and most importantly, are in the final match of the A-League Women knockout season.
Sydney FC 4 (Cortnee Vine 73m, 113m, Maria José Rojas 90+1m, Sarah Hunter 97m)
Melbourne City 2 (Hannah Wilkinson 21m, 58m)