Hopkins backing Victory women to bounce back from Derby drubbing

As they prepare to welcome Brisbane Roar to AAMI Park on Sunday, Melbourne Victory A-League Women (ALW) coach Jeff Hopkins is hopeful that his side has identified and rectified the defensive issues that led to a heavy defeat in last week’s Melbourne Derby. 

Having struggled to truly fire in any of their games thus far in 2021-22, Victory’s chickens came home to roost in last Sunday’s clash with Melbourne City: handed a 5-1 drubbing that was both their first loss on the campaign and allowed their local rivals to leapfrog them into second on the ALW table, Victory falling to third. 

After entering the season as prohibitive title favourites, the gap in the club’s defensive armour that had been opened by Kayla Morrison’s round-one ACL injury was turned into a gaping void by coach Rado Vidošić’s side: Kiwi attacker Hannah Wilkinson running riot – and capitalising on some calamitous defensive errors – to become just the second A-League Women (ALW) player to score five goals in a single game. 

Despite having what was, on paper, almost the strongest side they could muster, Hopkins’ midfield could do little with the majority of the possession that they had and when the Citizens moved to press their foe’s backline and deeper-lying midfielders, they were frequently able to induce turnovers. 

Describing the scoreline as a fair one based on the two sides’ performances in the immediate aftermath, the gaffer said on Saturday that significant work during the week had been devoted to ensuring that the defending ALW champions didn’t allow themselves to be put in a similar position again. 

“We’ve done a fair bit of analysis and broken down a lot of the goals that we conceded,” he told JDL Media. “Especially, we didn’t deal very well with the direct play that City dished up. It was a little bit disappointing. 

“But it’s obviously shown us a weakness in our team that we maybe need to work on a bit more and we have been working on this week. We hope we’ve addressed it because I think Brisbane is quite similar in the way that at times and at certain moments in the game they are quite direct. 

“They do get the ball in behind and they do threaten to run in behind you. I think we could have a few similar problems to deal with and it’s going to be interesting to see how much we’ve learnt from last week and the week before. 

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“I think unless I have to I’m not one for reacting like that [shuffling the XI] on one game. But obviously, if the problem goes on or the mistakes keep happening then we’ll have to change the personnel. I think the players know that as well.”

Another complication for Victory, much as it has been for every ALW and A-Leagues Men squad, has the prospect of a COVID outbreak in their camp.

In the aftermath of last week’s derby, it was revealed that a Melbourne City ALW player, who lived with several teammates, had returned a positive rapid antigen test the morning of the game and been forced to withdraw; the rest of the squad only able to play after returning multiple negative rapid tests and observing strict distancing measures including multiple change rooms and team talks held on the pitch. 

But while City has reported a number of positive cases in their women’s program in the days since last Sunday – the club since reporting all those affected were feeling well – Victory has, as of Saturday morning, not returned any positive PCR or rapid tests — the club awaiting the last handful of their final PCR test results that have been held up by long wait times across the state. 

Nonetheless, seeking to avoid becoming the latest club to have the virus sweep through their ranks, Victory went digital in their preparations for the Brisbane encounter: staging team meetings and film analysis entirely online. The only time the group has come together in person has been for training sessions, which take place entirely outdoors and only after every member of the squad and staff have returned negative rapid antigen tests. 

“We’re expecting everyone to come through as negative,” Hopkins explained to JDL Media. “And if that’s the case then apart from Melina [Ayres] I’ll have a full squad to choose from. Fingers crossed, but I’ve got no reason to believe anything’s any different and we’ll be getting full negatives from everyone.”

Nursing a hamstring issue, Ayres has yet to feature for Victory this season, frustrating her attempts to build upon a 2020-21 A-League Women campaign that saw her lead the side in scoring and earn a place on the bench in the PFA Team of the Season. 

After experiencing what Hopkins describes as “a couple of little setbacks”, Victory has been cautious with the 22-year-old’s return to the field and, assuming there are no postponement-related delays, the striker’s 2021-22 debut will likely have to what a while longer yet. 

“She’s desperate to get back. She’s doing double sessions every day now,” Hopkins said. 

“She’s doing everything that she possibly can. She’s so dedicated and so professional about what she’s doing. We need to support her by giving her the best advice we can. 

“Would it be great to have her back? It definitely would be but I think she’s still a few weeks away. 

“But I’m expecting her to play a very big part in the season still.”

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You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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