The first televised game of the 2016-17 W-League season featured two teams who experienced contrasting fortunes last season. Despite their best ever finish (5th in 2015-16), Adelaide United made major changes to their squad. In addition to a new manager (Huss Skenderovic), 16 out of the 22-player squad had not played for the club previously, with 10 of their new signings starting in this game. In contrast, Victory had a more settled squad (12 players returning from last season), but were looking to rebound after their worst ever finish (9th in 2015-16). Victory also had a new manager, with Jeff Hopkins replacing Dave Edmondson.
The two sides had contrasting tactics for this game. Adelaide appeared to line up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, and were keen to play the ball forward as quickly as possible. Victory maintained a fairly high backline throughout the game, which meant that United strikers Sofia Huerta and Adriana Jones were able to get in behind the Victory fullbacks on a number of occasions.
When Adelaide didn’t play the early ball forward towards the strikers, Danielle Colaprico, playing in the no. 10 role, would act as the link between the strikers and the rest of the team. Right midfielder Dragana Kljajić would make more forward runs than left midfielder Stella Rigon, giving Adelaide’s midfield diamond a lopsided look.
Victory lined up in a 4-1-2-3 formation and were aiming to be less direct than their opponents. Keeper Bianca Henninger wanted to play short goal kicks, but Adelaide would press high up the pitch, cutting off passing lanes and forcing her to go long on multiple occasions.
Victory wingers Rachel Alonso and Lia Privitelli would mostly position themselves near the touchline, which sometimes left Natasha Dowie isolated in the central striker role. Christine Nairn compensated for this by roaming forward from midfield, and the combination between Nairn and Dowie was vital to Victory’s attack.
Dowie troubled the United defence all game with clever off-the-ball movement and good hold-up play, and she always seemed to get free of the defence at set pieces. Nairn would move across the pitch (though more often to the right) to receive possession, and would look to find Dowie whenever possible. Nairn’s ability to play accurate passes (and take set pieces) with both feet caught the eye – there aren’t enough genuinely two-footed players in football. Victory seemed to focus their attacks on their right side, with Nairn often drifting across to the right to support Alonso (and later on, Kariah White).
There was an awful start to the game as Victory midfielder Melissa Taranto attempted a tackle and immediately went to ground. She had to be replaced by her twin sister Adriana, with her injury later confirmed as an ACL tear.
After Taranto’s unfortunate injury the game sprang into life with three goals in six minutes. Adelaide opened the scoring in the 13th minute after a stroke of good fortune – Rigon taking a free kick from 25 yards out and beating Henninger with the aid of a deflection. Four minutes later Monica sold United keeper Sarah Willacy slightly short with a backpass. The error was compounded when Willacy held onto the ball too long, allowing Dowie to win possession and slot the ball home for Victory’s equaliser. The see-saw start to the game continued two minutes later when Adelaide regained the lead. Colaprico won the ball in midfield and played a precise through ball for Huerta, her low cross from the left finished emphatically by Jones.
Despite being behind for a second time, Victory continued to create chances as Nairn imposed herself on the game. Just after the half hour, Willacy atoned for her earlier mistake, diving full length brilliantly to save Nairn’s 25 yard free kick. Then a few minutes before the break Nairn played a great through ball for Dowie, but Willacy remained alert and rushed out quickly to smother Dowie’s shot.
The score was 2-1 to Adelaide at the break despite Victory having the greater share of possession. At times this seemed to work in United’s favour as they were able to sit deep, draw their opponents forward and then hit on the counter.
Early in the second half Victory were inches away from a second equaliser. Alonso played an accurate cross from the right, and Dowie’s firm header struck the outside of the near post.
The game turned with the introduction of Victory substitute Kariah White for Alonso on the hour. Almost immediately the scores were level for a second time. Dowie did brilliantly to control a long punt from Henninger while holding off two defenders. She found White on the flank and continued her run into the box. With her first meaningful involvement in the game, White was able to find Dowie with a pinpoint cross, and Dowie’s header back across goal left Willacy with no chance.
With 20 minutes left Victory hit the woodwork for a second time. Nairn’s cutback from the right flank eventually found its way to Adriana Taranto, whose shot on the turn hit the post with Willacy well beaten. This miss was to prove costly, as a few minutes later Adelaide won a free kick on the right flank. Emily Hodgson’s pinpoint delivery found Monica, who lost her marker and headed into the top corner.
Victory then had Henninger to thank for keeping them in the game, as she made three crucial saves in the space of three minutes. First she was on hand to deny Huerta after a good run and shot. From the resulting corner she showed great reflexes to deflect Katie Naughton’s header onto the bar, and then a few minutes later she made a one-on-one save from Jones.
These saves were to prove vital. Victory left winger Lia Privitelli had a quiet game, but she made a telling contribution with nine minutes remaining. After a strong run Privitelli played the ball into substitute Selin Kuralay, who swivelled past a defender and then fired the ball home from 25 yards for Victory’s third equaliser of the game.
Both teams went close to scoring their fourth goal of the game in the dying minutes. In the final minute of regulation time White hit the bar with an overhit cross after being picked out by Nairn’s brilliant pass. Then, with the last chance of the game Huerta found herself in a one-on-one situation after getting on the end of a long ball. Unfortunately for the Reds, she couldn’t hit her shot cleanly and it was saved easily.
Neither team controlled the play for long spells, so a draw was probably a fair result, with both sides able to take positives from this game. Adelaide looked fairly cohesive in spite of all the changes to their squad. They looked dangerous on the counter, and the new strike partnership of Huerta and Jones has the pace to trouble most W-League teams. It was also nice to see Marijana Rajčić return to the field after her third knee reconstruction. For Victory, Christine Nairn and Natasha Dowie combined well, and Kariah White caused havoc on the right flank for the final 30 minutes after coming on as a sub.
Adelaide United 3 (Rigon 13’ Jones 19’ Monica 73’)
Melbourne Victory 3 (Dowie 17’ 63’ Kuralay 81’)
Adelaide United (4-4-2 diamond): 20. Sarah Willacy, 25. Katie Naughton, 5. Monica Hickmann Alves,
4. Emily Hodgson, 15. Georgia Campagnale, 6. Ally Ladas, 17. Dragana Kljajić (18. Isabella Scalzi 85’),
7. Stella Rigon (capt.) (16. Kelsey Zafiridis 72’), 24. Danielle Colaprico, 12. Adriana Jones (9. Marijana Rajčić 88’), 11. Sofia Huerta
Unused sub: 21. Claudia Jenkins
Yellow card: Campagnale 31’
Melbourne Victory (4-1-2-3): 1. Bianca Henninger, 2. Alex Natoli, 16. Samantha Johnson, 17. Gulcan Koca, 3. Alex Cheal, 4. Melissa Taranto (15. Adriana Taranto 11’), 8. Ayesha Norrie (14. Selin Kuralay 72’),
10. Christine Nairn (capt.), 19. Rachel Alonso (25. Kariah White 60’), 7. Lia Privitelli, 9. Natasha Dowie
Unused sub: 20. Bethany Mason-Jones
Yellow cards: Johnson 35’, Dowie 47’, Kuralay 80’