Matilda returns but other looks set to head for the exit as Victory travel to face Adelaide

Melbourne Victory boss Jeff Hopkins will welcome Matildas’ midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight for his side’s meeting with Adelaide United and is targeting the return of other key contributors for Thursday’s meeting with Sydney FC but is increasingly resigned to losing on-loan star Alex Chidiac back to NWSL side Racing Louisville before the end of the season.

Still returning to full match-fitness after a long injury layoff with an ACL tear, Kellond-Knight was rested for her side’s clash with Western Sydney Wanderers mid-week, staying in Melbourne as her teammates ground out a 0-0 draw with a suddenly resurgent red and black outfit. 

Melbourne Victory coach Jeff Hopkins
Image: Melbourne Victory

But the 32-year-old has since joined her teammates, who flew direct from the Harbour City, in South Australia and Hopkins expects her to be ready to start for a side that, with one eye on the short turnaround before next week’s Jan. 26 showdown with Sydney FC, will be fielded with fatigue in mind. 

“We’ve got another reasonably tight turnaround, Sydney next Thursday, so we’ve got to be clever and as smart as we can be in terms of the load management of the team,” he detailed. 

“We’ve brought KK over… who had a week to freshen up from [Victory’s 1-1 draw with City last Sunday]. 

“She’s fresh as a daisy. We didn’t want to risk her. I thought she had one of her best games of the season against City. She was looking fit and strong and gave us the quality that she gives us all the time. 

“But we didn’t want to double up with her. The safest thing for us was to not bring her to Sydney at all and try to freshen her up so she’ll be ready to jump in straight away on the weekend.”

Despite the season only just reaching its halfway point, Saturday afternoon’s Original Rivalry clash represents a veritable six-pointer in the race for the top four and finals football: Victory entering the day’s play in fourth place on 15 points and Adelaide one spot behind them on 13. 

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Neither team will exactly bring a strong form line into the contest, either; Victory is undefeated in their last seven but drawing their three most recent fixtures and the Reds are winless in their last four games, with three losses in that stretch. 

Jenna McCormick and Kate Bowler will return for coach Adrian Stenta’s side, who with just six in nine games have scored the second-fewest goals in the ALW this season. 

Per FbRef, the Reds have been the most wasteful attacking side in the league this season: underperforming their expected goals (xG) by six and sitting bottom of the league in goals per shot and goals per shot on target metrics. 

“It’s going to be a challenge and we expect them to come here and be really up for the fight,” Stenta said.

“We need to match their intensity and their effort if we’re going to get something out of the game.

“They are a difficult side to score against.”

Averaging less than a goal a game across their past four fixtures, Victory has also failed to fire in recent times but Hopkins was hopeful that reinforcement would soon arrive on that front in the form of injured attackers Melina Ayres (hamstring) and Catherine Zimmerman (fractured leg), as well as wing-back Gema Simon (calf). 

“They’ve been working hard,” he said. “They could be a chance for next Thursday, if not to start then to be considered for the squad. 

“Really pleased with the way that they’re all progressing. They’re working hard every day to tick a few boxes in terms of their injuries. There are not too many more to tick there. But also in terms of building up that strength and base of fitness so that when they do come back they’re ready to come in and play as many minutes as possible. 

“I’m really pleased with the way that we’ve managed all of those three. And I’m hoping we might get some good news maybe not with all three of them but maybe with one of the three or two of the three might be available. 

“Then it’s a choice for us if we put them in, are they going to be physically ready to go? Or do we give them more time? But it would be nice to have them available.”

But while the news is good on the injury front for Hopkins, it’s less positive surrounding his hopes of extending Chidaic’s loan from Racing Louisville.

“We’re still to be confirmed. As it stands at the moment, she’ll be going back. Which will be a big blow for us, obviously,” Hopkins explained. “It’s probably something that we thought could happen and we tried not to let it happen. 

“It’s been a tough job for us to try and get that across the line but at the moment it looks like she will be heading back over I think around the time of the Aussie camp in the international break. 

“It opens up the window to [explore guest marquee replacements], for sure. Or for a free agent to come in. It’s something that we’ve been looking at, it’s something you have to look at. 

“That’s been something that’s been ongoing for the last three to four weeks. When Chids’ position has been a bit up in the air.”

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