The story so far: How Melbourne Victory made the Westfield W-League Finals Series
From league strugglers to Premiership powerhouses: what a season it’s been for Melbourne Victory.
Jeff Hopkins’ side clinched their maiden Westfield W-League Premiership this year, a remarkable triumph for a club that spent two out of the three previous campaigns on the foot of the ladder.
However, with a sudden-death hit out against Perth Glory on the horizon at Sunday 2.00pm AEDT, Victory will now have eyes for the big dance.
A Grand Final appearance, and potential Championship win would make this Victory season go down in competition folklore.
But how did they get here? Here’s how the Premiers made the finals.
Victory mean business
Chance were plentiful but Victory did not have the required bluster in front of goal on the opening day of the season, earning a 0-0 stalemate with Adelaide United.
But any worries over a potential lack of firepower from Hopkins’ side were quelled just seven minutes into their next fixture.
It’s almost as if question marks over their attacking performance in Round 1 came as a personal affront to Victory striker Melina Ayres, who rattled home one of the goals of the season in a 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.
Victory skipper Natasha Dowie was also on the scoresheet on that November evening – an opening of the floodgates for the former Liverpool hotshot.
Things got even better for Victory in Round 3 thanks to a huge 2-0 win over rivals and three-time reigning Champions Melbourne City.
The result was a landmark one for Hopkins’ side, who had Emily Gielnik on the scoresheet and offered a resolute defensive performance to keep out their neighbours.
Then, Victory beat Sydney FC 3-2 away from home in the Big Blue as Natasha Dowie’s hat-trick underlined their newfound Premiership credentials.
Teething problems for new competition frontrunners
Dowie was again on the scoresheet when Victory beat Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 in their first match of December.
But after a Round 6 bye prolonged their unbeaten start, Victory encountered their season’s first speedbump in the form of a rain-soaked 4-3 defeat to Brisbane Roar.
A response was required in the following week’s unlikely top of the table hit out against Adelaide United, but despite dominating large portions of the match Victory were beaten 3-2 and dropped the chance to return to the Westfield W-League summit after being leapfrogged by Perth Glory earlier that night.
Bouncing back from adversity
With two losses on the trot, doubts could’ve surfaced for Melbourne – made all the more daunting by a top of the table clash with Perth Glory at home in Round 9.
But Dowie, alongside Christine Nairn, was once again the inspiration and their goals helped Victory defeat Glory 2-1 and move temporarily back to the precipice.
Given the ultra-competitive nature of the title race this season, the big matches and tests just kept on coming for Victory, and next was another Melbourne Derby against City.
But a late goal from Nairn saw Victory edge a tense affair 1-0. It was a match that could’ve swung either way, but ultimately moved Melbourne back into outright first with four rounds remaining.
Charging home to silverware
Victory returned after their Round 11 bye to play Canberra United, only for mother nature to put their Premiership tilt on hold.
The Round 12 match was rescheduled due to lightning, and it would be a matter of weeks before Victory graced the pitch again in a Big Blue clash with Sydney FC.
That match saw Hopkins’ side secure their ticket to the finals and go back top of the ladder, and it was a late equaliser from Dowie that proved the difference.
The point left Victory in prime position for the Premiership given their rescheduled fixture with Canberra still in their pocket, and they arrived at Dorrien Gardens on the first day of February knowing they could seal the Premiership.
They did exactly that as first-half goals from Nairn and Gielnik wrapped up a 2-1 win. It left Victory to play out the re-scheduled date with Canberra which finished a drab 0-0 but could not dampen the club's celebrations.
Star player - Natasha Dowie
Dowie was there for the lows of Victory’s previous three seasons, and it was only fitting that the English marksman spearheaded the club’s revival in 2018/19.
Dowie scored nine goals and registered two assists in her 12 matches, but it was her leadership qualities on the pitch and undoubtedly off it which have arguably proven a greater benefit to Melbourne’s charge.
A gifted penalty box operator comfortable on either foot, the 30-year-old boasts an impressive 26% conversion rate having scored nine goals from her 18 shots on target. A lethal standing, and a big reason why Victory could march toward further silverware.
Record against Perth Glory
Melbourne Victory have edged two classic contests against their Semi Final rivals this season.
The first came in December. Natasha Dowie’s excellent individual effort broke the first half deadlock before Christine Nairn added a second after the break.
Sam Kerr had threatened for Glory throughout the match, and she teed up Rachel Hill on the cusp of full-time, but Victory held on to go top of the Westfield W-League.
Then, in Victory’s penultimate fixture this season, the club beat Glory by the same scoreline. Nairn again was influential, opening the scoring before turning provider for Emily Gielnik.
Kerr pulled a goal back early in the second and Glory launched an assault but Victory held strong to retain their perfect record against the Western Australians this campaign.