Victory stun Sydney to secure a point and keep ALW premiership race alive

Inspired by second-half substitute Lia Privitelli, Melbourne Victory has stunned Sydney FC with a 93rd-minute equaliser that secured a 2-2 draw at City Vista Reserve on Wednesday evening. 

After dominating the opening half for no reward on the scoresheet, a well-drilled and organised Harboursiders unit eventually made a deserved breakthrough early in the second stanza through Princess Ibini, before doubling their advantage on the hour mark through Remy Siemsen. 

But rather than wilting, Victory, emboldened with some added grunt from substitute Privitelli, promptly began to show greater signs of fight and halved the deficit just eight minutes later after the aforementioned Privitelli was first on the scene to bundle a loose ball over the goalline. 

With time ticking away and the game beginning to stretch, both sides would have their chances to score but it, eventually, would be the hosts that took one: Catherine Zimmerman eventually finding enough space in a sea of bodies that met a 93rd minute corner and firing into the net to make it 2-2. 

Moving Victory a point clear in third place with a game in hand on the chasing pack, the shared spoils also denied coach Ante Juric’s Harbousiders a golden opportunity to all but seal the ALW premiership. Sydney will return to Melbourne on Sunday for a meeting with Melbourne City knowing that a loss would reduce their lead over the Citizens, who possess a game in hand, to just two points. 

The defending premiers are undoubtedly still the favourites to take out back-to-back plates, but Sunday’s result suddenly made things a lot more interesting. 

“I’m really pleased,” said Victory boss Jeff Hopkins. “Just for the character that we showed. I think we were forced to play at an intensity that we haven’t been forced to before. Sydney came out of the blocks in the first half and we were almost hanging on to get into halftime. 

“We hadn’t come up against a team that played with that intensity with and without the ball. They pressed us really well. With the ball they played forward really quickly, they got body forwards really quickly. We were happy to get into halftime and reassess and get into the girls’ heads a bit. 

“Although we started the second half better we did concede a goal and then another but the way we came back after that, and it wasn’t just huffing and puffing and knocking it long – we played some really good football and started to build some pressure. I was really pleased with the way we showed to ourselves that we can play and compete with the best in this league. 

“We’ve shown everyone else we can do it as well.”

The troubles that Victory would have with the Sky Blue press became apparent just minutes into the contest when Taylor Ray picked the pocket of Alex Chidiac in the midfield and started a breakaway move in transition that flashed danger signs. 

Sydney’s best chance of the opening stanza was delivered in the 12th minute when an attempted pass out from the Victory backline was picked out by Taylor Ray and worked to Mackenzie Hawkesby via Remy Siemsen. 

Looking up, the Sydney midfielder looped a ball over the top of the Victory defence and into the of an on-rushing Rachel Lowe, only for the youngster to flash her shot wide. 

Chances would continue to flow for the defending premiers, with the host’s newly-signed American Brooke Hendrix forced to desperately slide in to prevent a Siemsen shot from inside the penalty area in the 23rd minute after she had been played through by fellow Matilda Cortnee Vine. 

The organisation and shared commitment that the Harboursiders had in employing their press was obvious; Ray seemingly anywhere and everywhere when Victory thought they had made the initial breakthrough. Missing just three starters from the side that had been vanquished in the 2020-21 Grand Final by Victory, they looked more cohesive than their foes that started only three members of their starting XI from the decider.

Outside of rare moments when one of their long-balls bore some sort of fruit, Chidiac was frequently the only player that was able to progress Victory’s field position and hold onto the ball.

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Changes were swung by Hopkins at halftime but they weren’t enough to prevent Ibini from opening the scoring.

Collecting the ball on the wing, the 22-year-old drove up the Victory touchline and from an incredibly acute angle stabbed an effort past Casey Dumont at the near post and made it 1-0 to the visitors and secured her fourth goal of the season. 

More challenge was heaped upon Victory just minutes later when Amy Jackson, who started at centre back thanks to Claudia Bunge being on international duty, was forced off with an injury and replaced by Tiff Eliadis. Hopkins said post-game it appeared to possibly be an achilles issue for the veteran.

Then on the hour mark, it was 2-0: Sydney worked the ball to Charlize Rule on the right-hand side before she sent in a cross that Seimsen headed beyond Dumont and into the back of the net. 

No doubt stung by the two-goal deficit, Victory re-engaged with slightly more vim following the re-start and dragged a goal back eight minutes later when a Courtney Nevin cross was inadvertently deflected towards goal by Tobin and bundled over the line by the recently introduced Privitelli. 

It was just the second goal that Jada Whyman had conceded all season, and Victory very almost doubled her pain four minutes later when Chidiac drove inside and fired off an outside-of-the-box effort that the Sydney custodian was forced to leap and parry over the bar. 

“Absolutely outstanding,” Hopkins said of Privitelli. ‘I think Lia knows how I feel about her as a player. I love the intensity that she plays at. If you ask her to run through a brick wall, she’ll run through a brick wall for this club. 

“She chased down lost causes, put Sydney under pressure and in the end, in the first half where their back four was quite composed and looked to play, they became a bit panicky and jittery on the ball. She was one of the sparks that got us going in the second half.”

Looking to kill off these late signs of resistance, Sydney almost had their third with back-to-back attempts in the 82nd minute but were only able to direct their efforts at Dumont and wide respectively. 

And they were opportunities they were left ruing when Zimmerman popped up with her late leveller, and opportunities they might have been agonising over had Nevin been able to force her headed effort from a corner over the line in the final seconds. 

“Jeff and I have conversations and no matter what role I play, be it in the starting XI or on the bench or in the crowd I want to be able to give everything to the team,” said Privitelli. 

“We train too hard not to finish our chances. Coming from 2-0 down and slotting two for a point, I think was well-deserved. 

“[The point is] huge. We’ve had a tough fixture, playing back-to-back games almost every three days. To be able to slot two goals against a team that’s hardly conceded all season and big for heading into the finals.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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