De Vanna fit and firing as Victory eye strong W-League run home

Full story published in SBS’ The World Game:

A fully-fit Lisa De Vanna highlights the reinforcements set to bolster Melbourne Victory’s W-League squad for their coming clash with Newcastle Jets, with coach Jeff Hopkins believing his side has what it takes to keep improving every week in their push for finals football.

Having defeated them 4-2 down in Morwell in their last hitout, Victory flew to New South Wales on Friday morning for a re-match with Ash Wilson’s side, which is set to take place at the No. 2 Sportsground on Saturday afternoon. 

Seemingly flying under the radar despite occupying fifth position on the W-League table, Victory can go third with a second-consecutive win over the Hunter-based side and have been boosted in their quest to leapfrog fourth-placed Canberra United and third-placed Adelaide United by the return to full fitness of De Vanna, New Zealand international Annalie Longo and NPLW VIC veteran Tiffany Eliadis. 

Matildas’ legend De Vanna had been restricted to 18 and 45-minute cameos in Victory’s most recent two games – easing her way back into things after a hamstring injury ruled her out of her side’s defeats to Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City – while Longo hasn’t played since the 3-2 defeat to City.

The two now loom as likely starters against the Jets. 

“We’ve got everybody free of injury and everyone fit and available,” Hopkins told The World Game. “The medical team have done really well over the past few weeks and getting everyone back and out on the field. 

“We’ve been able to get some good work into Lisa, Annalie and Tiff Eliadis. They’re all back in the squad this week.

“We didn’t really want the break last week, it kind of broke our momentum but what it did do was give us an extra week into one or two players.”

After seemingly firing a warning shot to the rest of the league by holding a Brisbane Roar side loaded with Matildas to a goalless draw in their opening fixture and hammering City 6-0 in their next fixture, Victory stumbled in their subsequent hitouts. 

Their shock defeat to City just a week after putting them to the sword and subsequent shellacking at the hands of Roar left them reeling and, in one of the most open W-League seasons in years, staring down the barrel of possibly missing finals football for the first time since 2017-18. 

Two wins since, however, have served to steady the Victory ship, and Hopkins told The World Game that the heavy Brisbane defeat had served as a touchstone for his group to take stock of the challenge that remained ahead of them. 

“It wasn’t a wake-up call but it kind of let us know that we still had a long way to go,” the Welshman explained. “It wasn’t that we went back to basics, but there was a lot of things that we realised that as a whole group – as a playing group and a coaching group – that there were certain areas of the game that we needed to get better at.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to get better at each week – one or two things each week – making sure we manage games properly and we accumulate points. 

“Probably the most glaring part was that we were giving the ball away way too much. It’s something we’ve focused on in our training and in our games and I think you can definitely see those two games that we’ve gotten better. 

“We’ve measured that with our stats and our stats have been getting better each game as well but we’re still a fair way away from where we really want to be. That’s been a focus of ours again this week

“The good thing about this side is that there’s a real will to get better and improve. When you’ve got players that want to get better and work hard you’ve definitely got a chance. I can’t see any reason why we won’t and why we can’t [peak come finals time].”

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