Things are beginning to get very real for Melbourne Victory.
Melbourne’s dark blue half were able to maintain their hold on the top position on the W-League thanks to a dramatic, 88th minute from American import Christine Nairn on Saturday afternoon, defeating Melbourne City 1-0 to extend their lead over second-placed Perth Glory to three points.
Victory hasn’t made the finals since their crosstown, sky-blue rivals entered the league but with just three games remaining appear set to, finally, break that drought.
Nevertheless, speaking after his side’s win, Victory gaffer Jeff Hopkins was at pains to temper excitement surrounding his club.
“Look, obviously when it becomes…when we actually make it, we’ll let ourselves, not relax, but we’ll mention that we’re there,” Hopkins said when asked about the prospect of finals football
“But it’s a game to game thing.
“We’ve got we got three games left and we’ll just take, I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but we’ll take it one game at a time and when we hit the points tally that we’re after, yeah, we’ll know we’re there and then we’ll then we’ll move on to the next game.
“I think we did try to keep really trying to keep a lid on things.
“But we do believe in ourselves now.
“We keep things like that within the group.
“And I think we… I think that’s probably what we’ve learnt from the two games that we lost is that that we need to we need to handle the expectations a little bit better.
“I think we’ve done that in the last couple of games.
“The Perth game was a real big game for us, although we didn’t build it up, and today the derby is always a big game for us.
“We’ve proved that in the bigger game – this could easily be two finals – that we’re capable of handling that type of pressure now.
“So yeah… look, if we make the finals, I think we’re capable of beating any side.”
Despite being forced back on their heels for much of the contest by the three-time defending W-League champions, Victory was still able to secure three points late in Saturday’s contest.
City did an excellent job of reducing the impact of Victory superstar Tash Dowie throughout the 90, isolating her in attack and forcing her teammates to look for other avenues to goal.
However, Victory was also able to blunt City’s forays forward, bogging down their rivals whenever they moved the ball into their attacking third.
And, eventually, with just minutes remaining in the contest, Victory was then able to steal a winner.
Just moments after City star Tameka Butt failed to pull the trigger on a golden chance up the other end, Victory won a corner, which Christine Nairn promptly buried directly into the back of the net to secure a famous win.
— Westfield W-League (@WLeague) January 5, 2019
“Overall, I was I was happy with the performance,” Hopkins said as he reflected on the game.
“I thought we started the game really well, we played as we intended to and created a few chances in the first 20.
“But to give City credit they gradually took control the game after about 20 minutes of the first half. They caused us quite a few problems in the wide areas, got behind us a little bit too many times to be comfortable and kind of went in halftime on top of us.
“But I think credit to the girls they came out and second half and, maybe my biased opinion, but I thought it was a lot more there’s a lot more even in the second half.
“I think we were a lot more controlled in the way that we dealt with their attacks.
“It’s funny, we did say we put a big emphasis on set plays today.
“I didn’t actually ask Christine just to score direct, but we’ll take it!
“That’s what she’s capable of doing, she’s a she’s a talented, technical player.
“But, I think probably one of the most important things that’s happened this year is if teams double up on Tash [Dowie] they leave space elsewhere and we’re more than capable of taking advantage of that extra space, especially in the wide areas
“I think that’s where we’re a different team this year.
“In the past, we didn’t have as many routes to goal and now, if they stop Tash, we’ll hit them in the wide areas and when they then readjust to the wide areas Tash will be free in the middle.