Canberra United pulled together another impressive second half haul against Melbourne Victory to secure a home semi-final in Round 14.

In the heat neither side were able to quite find their rhythm for most of the first half, with a penalty converted by Ash Sykes the only difference.

In front of a home crowd bolstered by local Japanese community support Yukari Kinga slotted two, while Grace Maher and Sykes were also able to add to the second half tally. Christine Nairn capitalised for a great cheeky goal in what was an entertaining finish to the season.

Canberra United - Key points and players

After a surprising few weeks in W-League results, it was interesting to watch the Canberra United side build momentum, work their way into a match and win.  While their ball movement and pace wasn’t quite as smooth as in the win over Perth, they were able to string a few great team goals together, finding each other with increased ease as the game progressed.

Yukari Kinga was hungry for goals, playing a greater attacking role than she has typically this season. Victory captain Christine Nairn was impressed by the playmaker.

“I don’t even think she broke out of a jog the whole game. So if she can be as effective as she is and not really sprint she’s doing something right – her movement and her technical ability and the way she sees the field.”

Grace Maher spoke after the game about a big lesson Canberra learnt from their first outing against Victory.

“I think we knew from last time we played them that [Natasha] Dowie poses a big threat with her physicality and her smarts. Credit to the backline, but I also think credit to our possession, to not allow them the opportunity to play her in. We pressed high, and I think it showed when she did get the ball she was isolated and had no support.”

While the defence did well overall to stifle Dowie, Trudy Burke will no doubt be headed for a few sunny sessions in the nets this week after being caught out by Nairn from a kickoff.  The transition play from Canberra proved effective, perhaps best displayed by a length of the field goal starting off a clever Jenna McCormick clearance in added time.

Notable moments

Ellie Brush became the first Canberra player, and second W-League player to reach 100 games with a single club.

Grace Maher acknowledged the privilege it is to share such big moments with her teammates.

“I feel so lucky, I’ve had these moments where you get to interchange with players and share these moments – we’ll go and celebrate the win, but more importantly it’s great to have Ellie back, especially before the finals. She’s such a crucial player. I know she’ll take great confidence going in to 101.”

Rae Dower also spoke both of the significance of the achievement, and the importance of getting Brush minutes leading into finals.

“If not for the injury she would have reached it 6-8 rounds ago. She’s a foundation player – 100 games for the same club. Very important, and she’s held leadership roles all the way through from a young age. She’s only 28, what a fabulous achievement.”

Ashleigh Sykes, after scoring 10 goals in a month of W-League action, finished atop the season’s goal-scoring tally. The reigning Julie Dolan medallist, scored many of these goals after she’d ended up with captaining duties following injuries to Brush and Michelle Heyman.  Leading from the front, indeed.

Big Question

Canberra have done enough in their regular season work to ensure a home final. They’ve had seesawing results at McKellar – along with a home loss at Bruce Stadium. The question now hangs over whether they can string together a second solid game in as many weeks.

Melbourne Victory - Key points and players

Melbourne Victory arrived in Canberra fresh off a bye following their historic win over Melbourne City.  For the first half they held strong in defence, and although Canberra pressed them in continuing waves were able to keep the deficit to one.

Beth Mason-Jones was effective between the sticks, something that should be a source of pride for her and the Victory squad after an injury-plagued season.  She denied some of the best attackers in the league, and was particularly impressive with second efforts. Her captain was quick to acknowledge that she kept them in the game.

“Beth had some great saves. You got to give her credit, it could have been ugly at times. She made two [great saves] in the first half, and at least 1 or 2 in the second half. It could have gotten ugly, but because of her, stepping in for B I think she did a great job and this is the benchmark of where she’s going to be in a couple of years.”

Similarly, the work rate in the heat of Victory players was impressive, particularly in the face of waves and waves of pressure from Canberra. And with that work rate, came a smart play, that many would have missed – and even caught United by surprise. Nairn’s goal happened so quickly, she almost seemed shocked by it herself.

“To be honest I saw her off her line in the first half. And I was joking with Tats [Dowie] about trying it. But, I was against the wind. So, when I got the opportunity in the second half, I put it probably just on target. I don’t know what happened, it trickled in, and I’ll take it.”

Victory’s season

While there’d be disappointment with the finish and a number of results among staff, fans and players, Victory proved to be a great team adding intrigue to the back half of Season 9.

Nairn pointed to their historic Derby win when reflecting on key moments.

“I think the highlight has to be the City game. Beating Melbourne City is something that is huge to Melbourne Victory. Some can say we didn’t deserve to win that game, but at the end of the day it’s the scoreboard that matters. That win really made our season and gave us our second wind to finish out the season, because they’re a great team.”

“It just goes to show, Victory is coming back slowly but surely.”

What’s next?

While Melbourne Victory’s season 9 is over, Canberra host Melbourne City at Canberra Stadium in a semi-final on Sunday.

Although waiting on results following the win, Dower was emphatic about their disinterest in their semi-final opponents.

“We don’t care. You’ve got to play whoever you’re told to play.”

Canberra United 5 (Sykes 40(p)/90+2’ Kinga 48’/90+4’, Maher 77’)

Melbourne Victory 1 (Nairn 49’)

McKellar Park, Canberra

Kickoff: 4.00pm

Crowd: 1,256

Referee: Lara Lee

Canberra United: Trudy Burke (gk), Yukari Kinga, Emma Checker, Hayley Raso, Grace Maher (Ellie Brush 79’), Jenna McCormick, Jasmyne Spencer (Lisa De Vanna 45’), Hannah Brewer, Ashleigh Sykes, Celeste Boureille (Kahlia Hogg 71’), Stephanie Ochs (Nickoletta Flannery 71’)

Substitutes: Georgia Boric (gk)

Cautions: Raso 79’

Melbourne Victory: Bethany Mason-Jones (gk), Alexandra Natoli, Alexandra Gummer, Annabel Martin, Natasha Dowie, Christine Nairn (c), Kirsty Yallop, Laura Spiranovic (MelindaJ Barbieri 69’), Samantha Johnson, Gulcan Koca (Adriana Taranto 84’), Kariah White (Lia Privitelli 57’)

Substitutes: Emily Kenshole (gk)

Cautions: Annabel Martin 22’, Samantha Johnson 39’, Alexandra Gummer 75’