Dub Derby Day at Epping. There’s surely nowhere else to be on a bright Saturday afternoon.
I’m afraid I can’t report on the quality of the chips and nugs at the ground (‘cash only’ at the canteen gets me again) but I can report on the quality of Victory’s title chances. They are… good. Very good.
Melbourne Victory 1 – Melbourne City 0
Fortress Epping produced once again for Victory as they secured their second win over their cross-city rivals this season. It was a moment of magic from Christine Nairn that ended up separating the teams despite City dominating for long periods of the game. The champions have had their four-game unbeaten run snapped and their finals chances made just that little bit more precarious.
The game opened brightly for the Vuck, starting the better of the two teams. However, it wasn’t long until City found their rhythm. A City goal seemed inevitable for large swathes of the half. They were constantly pressing. The work of Steph Catley on the left was particularly impressive, combining well with Helen Caceres, Adriana Jones and Tameka Butt.
Victory sat deep and tried to soak up as much pressure as they possibly could. I was impressed by the centre-back partnership of Sam Johnson and the always solid Laura Alleway. However, for mine, goalkeeper Casey Dumont was player of the match. One save amongst many that stood out was a reflex save off a Tameka Butt volley. You get the feeling she wants that third goalkeeping ticket to France.
The second half carried on right where the first left off with City really turning the screws and piling on the pressure. I was certain they would break the deadlock with not long to go in the game when Butt broke free and only had the keeper to beat. In fact I commented, quite loudly, quite near the broadcast microphone, “she’s a certainty here, she doesn’t miss.” Turns out that she does in fact miss when a keeper the quality of Dumont comes out to smother it. The game was still goalless and looked like it would remain that way.
Injuries were ever present throughout the game. It was a physical affair just like a derby should be. There were plenty of anxious moments as players from both teams received ample attention from their physios. Dumont took out her own teammate Em Gielnik, Christine Nairn looked like she was struggling for the whole game and went down early in the second half, and even Steph Catley went down at one point. Luckily all players got back up but there were a few hairy moments.
Speaking of injuries, City really missed Jasmyne Spencer. I’ve thought she has been their greatest attacking threat throughout the year. Kyah Simon, who needs no introduction, was also absent. As a result despite controlling possession and field position they were unable to capitalise and ultimately they were unable to do the thing that they need to do to win games – put the ball in the back of the net.
It looked like the only way that Victory could snatch a goal would be on the counter and there were occasions where it looked like they might just do that. Any team with Natasha Dowie in it is going to be a constant threat. While these counter attacks were not the avenue in which they eventually scored, it continues to be a concern for City that their opposition can time and time again park the bus against them and can effectively counterattack. Possession and balls into the box feel good but only matter when they amount to something.
The breakthrough came unexpectedly. Nairn, who had actually had an underpar game based on her high standards, stood over the ball at the corner flag. She looked to whip the ball in to find Dowie’s head. Instead she found the back of the net with the defence left dumbfounded by the curve of a ball that found its way into top bins. The crowd went wild, as did her teammates who proceeded to pile on top of her at the corner flag.
There was no time left for City to breakthrough a Vuck defence that had decided to close out the game by putting 11 behind the ball. There were celebrations at the final whistle for Victory players and fans but they could not afford to be too extravagant. There’s still a job to do. Nonetheless, Victory fans can now rest assured that their W League team is the real deal.
City are far from out of sight of the finals but find their task ever more difficult for every game that they fail to win. They have to be more pragmatic. Every team comes at them with the same plan and very often it is working. They had a scare against Western Sydney on New Years Day but against a team with the quality of Victory they could not get away with the points. The injection of the American Lynn Williams for the remaining games will help but they face the very real prospect of not making the finals for the first time in their history.
It’s good for the league for Victory to be performing so well. This game will give them a massive confidence boost. The Dub has been so unpredictable this season but hopefully for them and their fans they can carry this for the rest of the season and into the finals.
By Taryn Heddo