Melbourne Victory has secured a third straight win over crosstown rivals Melbourne City courtesy of a Christine Nairn wonder goal to return to the top of the W-League table.
Derbies are always special and this one proved to be no exception. Much like their first meeting this season in November, City was without some key players.
Back in round three, it was no Steph Catley and no Rebekah Stott. This time around, Kyah Simon was in a moon boot while Jasmyne Spencer was unavailable due to personal reasons.
This saw Adriana Jones elevated to the starting XI while Helen Caceres retained her spot after a solid shift against the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Victory, on the other hand, fielded an unchanged line up to the one which defeated Perth Glory.
The opening 10 minutes belonged to the team in navy. However, within this opening period, Jeff Hopkins’ side would show two styles of attack – one that has served them well so far this season and one that will remind fans of previous Victory incarnations.
The former style sees neat combination play between the midfield, wingers and strikers. Nairn, Natasha Dowie and Emily Gielnik have combined in duos or as a complete trio for many of Melbourne Victory’s goals this season.
Along with the likes of MelindaJ Barbieri, Lia Privitelli, Grace Maher and Dani Weatherholt, the Victory attackers seem to know where their teammates are and exactly where they will be.
The pinpoint passes and the intelligent movement on and off the ball have been as visually pleasing as they have been effective for the Victory.
The latter style was high balls over the top of the opposition defence to the lone forward – with Dowie playing that recurring role.
Although it can be effective, it more often than not sees the Victory captain look isolated, typically in the space between the 18-yard box and the halfway line, surrounded by multiple defenders.
The navy team looked best when it was playing the passing, all-inclusive style. However, City was able to restrict the space, cut off channels and occasionally outmuscle Victory players making this style harder to pull off.
After Victory’s bright start, City took control of the match and while Rado Vidosic’s team did miss Spencer’s constant threat, they were still able to find attacking outlets.
Tameka Butt was everywhere; putting crosses in, taking shots, running into the box and doing the grunt work in the midfield.
City also benefited from the forward runs of Catley down the flank and – although less frequently – Stott bursting down the park from the centre of defence.
The light blue team seemed to be able to overwhelm and bamboozle Victory with quick combination play in narrow spaces. However, despite the attacking options and dominance in play, the reigning champions seemed to miss that killer edge.
Whether that be the final pass into the box, the central run from a player after some good work on the wings or the more clinical finish, City was dominant without making it count.
This is supported by the stats; City had the bulk of possession (62.6% to 37.4%) but only one shot more (12-11) than Victory. This was also the case for shots on target (4-3).
Victory’s defensive unit is also responsible in some part for City’s lack of goals. The work of Casey Dumont and Sam Johnson was particularly great.
The Victory goalkeeper was outstanding in a best on ground performance.
She was always up to the task, none more so than when Butt had a side foot, volley shot from close range which elicited a stunning, reflex save just before halftime.
In a similar vein, Johnson was colossal. The American import was consistently making key interventions and was cool, calm and solid at the back.
The win for Victory puts it back on the top of the table heading into a bye. City remain in fifth, only six points behind the league ladders and a point off fourth spot.