Melbourne Victory has overcome a spirited display from crosstown rivals from Melbourne City to steal a 1-0 win in the W-League season’s second and final Melbourne Derby.
Just as it was in the 2017/18 fixture at Epping Stadium between the two, it took a miracle goal from the home side to break the deadlock.
Stepping up to take a corner in the 88th minute, Victory’s Christine Nairn connected with a sweet, in-swinging effort that somehow skittled every player assembled in the penalty area and nestled itself, untouched, inside the far post.
Stunned, Nairn only had a second to comprehend what she had done before she went down: taken to the ground in a bearhug by teammate Tash Dowie as Victory celebrated one of the most unlikely of goals they will ever score.
Victory had started the contest on Saturday afternoon brightly; applying significant pressure to their sky blue opposition and frequently looking to isolate Dowie with long balls over the top in order to enable the Englishwoman to work one-on-one against City’s centre-backs.
City, in contrast, struggled to find a sense of cohesion in the clash’s opening stages with Victory’s press and the absence of stars such as Kyah Simon and Jasmyn Spencer hampering their efforts to settle into the contest.
Nevertheless, despite Victory being able to threaten with a number of half-chances, City was able to steady themselves and even produce the first shot of the contest that required either goalkeeper to make a save: Yukari Kinga firing an effort into the chest of Casey Dumont in the 21st minute of the contest.
The shot harboured a swinging of momentum as City began to clamp down on Victory’s attempts to work the ball to Dowie.
City though – like Victory before them – found themselves unable to turn that ascendency into anything closely resembling a clear chance on goal for much of the half.
Indeed, unable to break their opponents down from open play, City turned to set pieces in an attempt to break down Victory; Elise Kellond Knight floating in a free kick in the 37th minute that Danielle Weatherholt – just – headed over the bar for a corner.
Perhaps too keen to make a breakthrough, City’s Danish defender Theresa Nielsen earned herself a caution from the subsequent corner when she clattered into defender Laura Alleyway; sending the Victory centreback to the turf requiring treatment.
Just minutes before the half City was finally able to produce an effort worthy of opening the scoring, only to be denied by some excellent goalkeeping from Dumont.
Finding herself in space on the edge of the penalty area, Tameka Butt got on the end of a ball floated in from the left from Adriana Jones and lashed a stinging volley on target that forced Dumont to dive to her left and produce a strong, one-handed save to maintain parity.
Dumont, however, had no answer for a Kellond-Knight free kick just seconds before referee Lara Lee blew her whistle for the half; only able to watch as the ball, mercifully for Victory, flashed wide of the post.
The second half began then much as the first half had: Victory taking control of the contest for the first ten minutes before City flexed their muscles and wrestled back dominance.
Increasingly frustrated by the attention she was receiving from City centre-backs Rebekah Stott and Lauren Barnes, Dowie twice attempting efforts from at least 30-yards out from goal but failed to trouble Lydia Williams on either occasion.
Her frustrations would have only increased in the 56th minute when New Zealand international Stott pinched the ball off her in the midfield and danced away, although her subsequent attempt to spring Butt behind the Victory defence was clamped down on by Dumont.
Taking a lead from her defensive partner, Catley made a dangerous forward run of her own off a Victory turnover in the 64th minute of play but, despite the Victory defence retreating as she advanced, she didn’t pull the trigger; instead looking to play in an offside Jones.
With both teams desperate for the three points, both defences became increasingly intense in their pressing, causing play to become increasingly sloppy and physical.
The physicality didn’t even spare the normally sacrosanct goalkeepers; Dumont suffering what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the 78th minute as she collided with Jones looking to clear a Rhaili Dobson cross.
The 26-year-old goalkeeper remained on the surface for several minutes as she received treatment from the Victory medical staff before eventually retaking her position between the posts.
Victory looked to slingshot out from their defence following the resumption of play, a long ball over the top spilling into the path of the newly introduced Melina Ayres and enabling her to launch a bobbling effort along the ground that forced Williams into a good, low save.
City responded with a golden chance to open the scoring just as the clock ticked over to 85 minutes when Butt broke in on goal.
The Matilda, though, was unable to pull the trigger with a shot; Dumont proving that she was over the knock to her shoulder by charging her down and snuffing out the danger.
As it is wont to do the cruel nature of football then showed itself; Nairn netting her miracle strike just minutes after Butt had squandered a relatively straightforward effort.
It was a goal that could have seismic repercussions for the W-League.
Not only did Nairn’s effort send her side top of the W-League once again it also struck a hammer blow to City’s hopes of finding themselves inside the top four at the end of this highly competitive W-League season.
It means that, for the first time in four years, the W-League championship very much looks like heading somewhere other than Bundoora.