Despite COVID chaos, “five-star” Hannah Wilkinson lifts Melbourne City to thumping win over Melbourne Victory 

Despite their preparation being thrown into chaos by a positive rapid COVID test, Melbourne City put the A-League Women’s (ALW) defending champions to the sword on Sunday afternoon: running out 5-1 winners over Melbourne Victory. 

Going second after a performance that simultaneously served to bolster their title credentials and raise further questions about a Kayla Morrison-less Victory, City exploits came despite an unnamed member of their squad, who lives in a house with a number of her teammates, returning two positive rapid antigen cases in the afternoon in the lead into the contest.

The squad was subsequently forced to scramble to determine if any other players were positive and figure out a way to prepare for the fixture in a manner that would allow for at least some form of risk reduction.

“We all had rapid tests at 12 o’clock today and one of the players tested positive,” City assistant coach Dario Vidošić said. 

“She had a second and tested positive again while everyone tested negative. And when the girls arrived we re-tested the ones in the house as closer contacts and they all tested negative again.

“That certainly put everything into a bit of disarray and we had a set of girls from that house in a separate change room so we couldn’t have a team talk or anything – to keep that distancing. They got tested on arrival after coming a bit later. 

“So it was a bit of a crazy day but I think after that you have to give the girls so much applause for that [performance].”

City’s romping win was also delivered despite one of the big talking points in the Victory camp in the lead into the game was avoiding a repeat of the 2020-21 series: in which the eventual champions recorded a 6-0 triumph in round two of the season only to go down 3-2 a week later.  While there had been no such thumping to create any possible complacency this season – a much-improved City going down 2-1 after striking first a fortnight ago – Victory coach Jeff Hopkins still declared ahead of the game that his side was “going to come out of the blocks” and be “quick and so aggressive” in their approach to avoid history repeating. 

Down 1-0 after just five minutes and down 3-0 at halftime, it’s fair to say that City didn’t exactly get the memo. 

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Indeed, spearheaded by Wilkinson’s five goals – the Kiwi joining Kate Gill as the only two women to score five times in a single game and going four clear in the Golden Boot race – coach Rado Vidošić’s City made their navy blue rivals look outright second rate on the way to the three points and handing them their first loss on the season.  

“[Wilkinson] was five-star,”  Dario Vidosic said.

“We are happy for her. It was always coming, she was excellent in round-one. She was again excellent, putting herself in great positions.”

Although able to select what was on paper nearly the strongest side available to them following Morrison’s season-ending ACL injury in round one, only Maja Markovski’s maiden ALW goal, a consolation strike in the 84th, gave Victory any sort of silver lining to the contest – stark questions continuing to emerge about their ability to function as a collective without the play and leadership of their captain at the back. 

“It was probably a true reflection of the game,” Hopkins said. “Our performance really took me by surprise. But the commitment City played [with] and the way that they went about the game it was a true reflection, the scoreline.

“We had a little bit of a go at the beginning of the second half, but even then it just wasn’t us.

“We didn’t commit to anything that we talked about going into the game, our press, our pressure, the way that we were going to move the ball. It was a really disappointing performance for me but… maybe it’d been coming for a few weeks. 

“We had got away with a few things [in past weeks]. So it’s now time for us to be honest with ourselves, take stock of where we are. 

“I remember this time last year, we were coming off a 6-0 defeat from Brisbane which turned out to be a bit of a godsend for us in terms of us looking at ourselves. Sometimes you need a kick up the backside to actually make you see exactly where you are. 

“So I’m confident that we’ve got an honest group of players that will be thoroughly disappointed with how we’ve done things today. We look at ourselves as a coaching staff as well, how we prepared for the game and we’ll try and put things right for next week. I guess that’s all we can do.”

Nonetheless, despite the lackadaisical performance from Victory — the manner they attempted to prevent some of City’s eventual goals almost comical — the performance put in by the Citzens, as well as the plan put in place beforehand by Rado Vidošić, deserves significant praise. 

Buoyed by a combination of exceptional work rate, organisation and tactical approach, City dominated every facet of the contest despite only having 39% of the ball: outshooting their foes 16 to eight and winning the shots on target battle ten to three.

Wilkinson’s five-star performance may deservedly grab the headlines, but she was ably supported by a collection of strong performances from figures around her such as Holly McNamara, Leah Davidson, and Rebekkah Stott.

Behind them, Victory’s vaunted lineup featuring Lynn Williams, Alex Chidiac, and Kyra-Cooney Cross could make little headway against a City back-five featuring three holdovers from the side that had been hammered 6-0 under a year ago. 

On the field, City showed what a difference two weeks can make and off it, they and the A-Leagues experienced what a single morning could do to a club in the age of Omicron.

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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