MELBOURNE Victory are the 2020/21 Westfield W-League champions, and they did it the hard way.
Teenage star Kyra Cooney-Cross was the hero for Victory, delivering a corner that swerved straight into the Sydney goal in the last seconds of extra-time, with a penalty shoot-out beckoning.
It was a devastating blow for the home side, and particularly goalkeeper Jada Whyman who was unable to keep out Cooney-Cross’s corner but had delivered a series of remarkable saves to keep her side on level terms until the very end.
But ultimately Victory were deserved champions, owning the big occasion and creating a series of chances that were spurned until the final seconds.
Twice in the first half Victory struck the Sydney woodwork, with veteran striker Lisa De Vanna putting in a powerful display and Cooney-Cross taking every opportunity to run at the home side’s defence.
Sydney were unable to summon a similar performance to the one that earned them the Premier’s Plate with a win over the same opponent just a fortnight ago, the draining demands of a deadlocked game sapping their energy and leaving them with a second grand final loss in 12 months.
The fact it was Victory driving forward in the last minute of extra time proved their physical supremacy, and Cooney-Cross’s corner swirled in the wind over Whyman’s head and dropped into the Sydney goal.
The consequent explosion of emotion from the visitors was in part relief, after a series of chances had gone unconverted through out the game. Cooney-Cross struck the bar with an early shot from distance, while De Vanna’s header hit almost exactly the same point of the frame.
De Vanna missed two glorious chances in extra time, slipping at the key moment in one then driving wide of an open goal, while Melina Ayres toe-poked wide from metres out near the end after De Vanna’s through ball evaded the Sydney defence.
Though Sydney captain Theresa Polias led by typical example, spraying the ball to the wings in attack and flying into defensive tackles, the Sky Blues struggled to create any extended fluency.
Their cause was hurt by the loss of their most likely outlet, winger Princess Ibini limping off on the hour after a series of rampaging runs that all too often were halted by Victory fouls. It was no coincidence that Victory’s ascendancy followed her exit.
The result was galling for Sydney keeper Whyman too, after a performance that earned her Player of the Match thanks to her inspired and agile goalkeeping. Most striking was the leap across goal to repel Cooney-Cross’s header at the far post, but she followed that up with a series of flying saves to keep out a variety of shots from distance.
Finally, though, she was beaten and Victory were able to celebrate a title win at the end of an intense final to finish an intense season.