Westfield W-League 2018/19 report card: Melbourne Victory
Considered by some to be the perennial underachievers of the Westfield W-League, Melbourne Victory entered the 2018/19 season with a point to prove.
Head coach Jeff Hopkins recruited well, with the likes of internationals Natasha Dowie (England) and Christine Nairn (USA) returning to the club, along with the arrival of Westfield Matildas winger Emily Gielnik.
We take a look at how the team in Navy Blue fared.
Record: 7W, 3D, 2L
Top scorer: Natasha Dowie (9 goals)
Most appearances: Teigen Allen, Natasha Dowie, Casey Dumont, Emily Gielnik, Christine Nairn – 13 games (including Finals Series)
The Westfield W-League 2018/19 season was historic for Victory as they claimed a maiden Premiers Plate.
You would not have predicted it in Round 1, however, as they spluttered to an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Adelaide United at AAMI Park
There were signs of things to come in that match, though, with the home side peppering the Reds with 21 shots, and over the coming weeks they would start to make the most of their attacking prowess.
A 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets got the ball rolling before a huge 2-0 win in the Melbourne derby set the tone for a thrilling win against their traditional rivals the following week. Travelling up to Kogarah to face Sydney FC, Victory left with all three points courtesy of a superb Dowie hat-trick.
A 2-1 triumph over cellar-dwellers Western Sydney Wanderers made it five unbeaten matches for Victory before they were finally dragged back in a crazy 4-3 loss at Brisbane Roar as wild weather raged around Lions Stadium.
The Reds then shocked Melbourne with a 3-2 win in Adelaide to create some slight concern for the Victorians, but they got back to winning ways courtesy of professional performances against Perth Glory (2-1) and City again (1-0), which saw them perched on top of the ladder once again.
A tough 2-1 away win over Perth sealed a historic Premiership for Victory, with that definitive result sandwiched between draws with Sydney and Canberra United to round out the regular season.
A home semi-final against the Glory was all that stood between Victory and the Grand Final and they got off to the best possible start through Nairn after just two minutes.
Goals from Sam Kerr and Rachel Hill shocked the hosts late on, however, and they required a 94th-minute equaliser from Grace Maher to take the game to extra-time.
It mattered little in the end, with the prolific Kerr nabbing a double to bring up her hat-trick as Victory crashed out 4-2.
Victory’s top performance came across two games rather than one, with a pair of derby triumphs.
Since Melbourne City entered the Westfield W-League in 2015/16, Victory have lived well and truly in their shadow.
But Jeff Hopkins' side's 2-0 win in Round 3 hinted at changing fortunes, and when Nairn’s 88th minute cross drifted into City’s net at Epping Stadium in Round 10 the tide looked to have turned.
Two mature, gritty displays showed the progress Victory had made.
Unsurprisingly, Victory had a glut of top performers in their Premiership season.
One look at the stats would tell you that Dowie had an extraordinary season and was well in the hunt for the Golden Boot before Kerr pulled away late on.
Her nine goals were perfectly complemented by Nairn who, in addition to netting five of her own, contributed four assists in a top campaign for the USA playmaker.
In her first season in Navy Blue, Gielnik also stood up, scoring four goals as she showed form that all but secured her seat on the plane to France for June’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
While it was the old guard doing the business for Victory, the club also brought through a plethora of young talent to ensure the future is bright.
Grace Maher, 19, joined from Canberra and stood up when her team needed her most during the semi-final.
Annabel Martin, 20, and 17-year-old Kyah Cooney-Cross were also used on occasion and showed they can mix it at Westfield W-League level, providing some crucial depth.
2018/19 W-LEAGUE REPORT CARD: Adelaide United
2018/19 W-LEAGUE REPORT CARD: Brisbane Roar
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One result should not define a season, but Victory had the misfortune of being the opposition on the day of quite possibly the best Westfield W-League performance of Sam Kerr’s career to date.
Still, the club and players will be shattered and will need to use that motivation to build on what could be seen as a ground-breaking campaign in years to come.