Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ – Victory looking to take another ALW step against Canberra United

Melbourne Victory’s A-League Women side has experienced some pretty impressive highs under Jeff Hopkins, winning a premiership and back-to-back championships, but the coach believes the first half they played in their 5-2 win over Newcastle was some of the best football he’s ever seen them play. 

After falling to Western United and Sydney FC in their opening matches of the 2022/23 ALW season, Victory has rattled off three straight wins in their most recent hitouts, capped off by a comprehensive 5-2 thumping of the Jets on Dec. 18. 

Melbourne Victory midfielder Paige Zois
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

According to Hopkins, each of these wins has featured a notable performance improvement: “a pretty anxious affair” in a 1-0 win over Wellington to get them on the winner’s list, a 3-0 road win over Perth in which they played “pretty well”, and then a comprehensive win over the Novocastrians.

“We’ve kind of had a little bit of time to reflect on the performance [against Newcastle]. The first-half performance from us was probably right up there with the best that we’ve played, in terms of our football, in terms of the intensity and the quality and just the way that we finished everything off. 

“It was as good as I’ve seen since I’ve been at the club. 

“It’s been really positive over the last couple of weeks now since we played. We’ve had a little bit of a break over Christmas but also we’ve got some really good work into all the players. It’s allowed one or two of the girls to get a little bit refreshed.”

One of the players that have benefited from Victory’s extended Christmas break is veteran Amy Jackson, who Hopkins says will likely feature in some capacity, either as a starter or in a bench role, against the Canberrans. 

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Claudia Bunge, however, will not feature after being unable to recover from a niggle, instead turning her attention to Victory’s clash with Glory on Jan. 6. 

After being forced off in the 58th minute of the win over the Jets with a concussion, the 13 days between games have also allowed goalkeeper Casey Dumont to recover in time to retake her place between the posts. 

“I think there were reasons in the second half why we had that little drop off [against the Jets],” said Hopkins. “Losing Casey was a big part of that. We didn’t handle the transition from her coming off and Miranda [Templeman] coming on. 

“The Jets scored straight away and we had a little bit of an anxious 20 minutes or so. But that’s been good for us as well. It kind of showed an area that we needed to work on but we’re now comfortable that if that does happen again, we’re better prepared for that. 

“[Dumont] was a little bit groggy the day after the game but she’s come through the return to play protocols with flying colours. That’s a relief to us. 

“She’s a very, very important player for us. We’re pleased that we had that week for her to recover because she wouldn’t have played if we were playing last week.”

After recording two draws and a win across their opening three weeks of the campaign, Canberra has crashed to back-to-back defeats in their last two hitouts: coughing up a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 away to Perth on Dec. 18 and thumped 4-0 by Melbourne City on Dec. 23. 

Coach Njegosh Popovich’s sit seventh on the ALW table heading into round seven but, four points adrift of sixth-place Victory, risk losing touch with the competition’s leading pack if they’re unable to start stringing some wins together. 

Nonetheless, Hopkins says he likes what he’s seen from the side from the nation’s capital this season and says he’s wary of an outfit that he believes retains perhaps the league’s best striker at the tip of its spear. 

“I’ve got a lot of time for them,” Hopkins said of Canberra. “They play quite an aggressive press, they will put us under pressure at the back. We’ve worked hard on building up. We’ve got to be able to play, either though, over or around their press. There are a lot of rewards for us if we can do that. 

“But Michelle Heyman, she’s one of the best if not the best strikers in the league. She’s got pace, she’s very, very smart and a great finisher. They’ve got two good wide players as well.

“I think also their attack in transition is where they’re very, very strong so we’ve had a look at that, this week. I think that could be the key for us defensively: that we make sure that we counter their counterattack as well as we possibly can. Not let them attack quickly. 

“And if we can do that I think that will go a big way towards negating a lot of their threats.”

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