17/04/2024

Melbourne Victory players fighting for the ball against Adelaide United captain Isabel Hodgson. (Image: Melbourne Victory)

After trading blows all season long, Adelaide United couldn't make the most of its first ever final at home in the face of the reigning champions.

On Sunday afternoon, Adelaide United hosted its first ever final at Coopers Stadium.

Adelaide United came into this A-League Women season with the goal to finally finish inside the top four and earn an elusive finals appearance.

The season did not start that way whatsoever, with even the most optimistic Reds supporters having their belief shaken after a rattling 5-1 defeat away to defending champions Melbourne Victory to start the campaign.

Adrian Stenta’s side was able to overcome a horrendous opening round of the season to break a 14 year duck and make finals.

It was not just Adelaide’s historic achievement, but the way the Reds went about their business as one of the most entertaining, self assured sides in the competition. Both Fiona Worts and Chelsie Dawber ended the regular season campaign with double digits on the goalscoring charts, with the former winning the Golden Boot.

Adelaide exorcised its Melbourne Victory opening day demons by putting Jeff Hopkins’ side to the sword in emphatic fashion in the reverse fixture.

They won 3-0 at Coopers Stadium to confirm a maiden finals appearance, sealed by a superb Fiona Worts hat trick. Adelaide did not only finish three points above the same Victory side that it got demolished by in the opening round, but did it with a far superior goal difference as well.

A short two weeks later, Victory returned to Adelaide to take on the Reds in a much anticipated final. A regular season match is one thing, but beating the champions at their own game, finals football, is not as simple.

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Hopkins, clearly unhappy with his side’s previous display in Adelaide, promised a better effort from a rejuvenated, well-rested Victory side. That is exactly what his players delivered, frustrating the Reds before Lia Privitelli popped up to open the scoring for the visitors after a tense, but even opening 28 minutes.

The Reds have a core that is well versed to adversity, and they showed their well-renowned character and picked up the tempo straight from kick off.

An attacking onslaught led to Courtney Nevin committing a foul. Nano Sasaki audaciously caught Casey Dumont off her line and scored the free kick to put the sides level at the interval only three minutes after her side fell behind.

The feeling around Coopers Stadium was that the stage was set for the Reds to run over their Victorian visitors and win their first ever final. But the defending champions were not going to go down without a fight this time.

As the second half was settling into another close encounter mirroring the first interval, the Victory broke it the game open.

Melina Ayres showed the huge difference she makes after missing all but one game through injury. She led the line, and when she was found unmarked in the back post, she made no mistake with a tidy finish past Annalee Grove.

This time the Reds had no response, unable to piece together any consistent attacking play after conceding. Casey Dumont went unchallenged for the rest of the final as the Reds bowed out of season 2021/22.

In contrast, Victory looked threatening while counterattacking, with former Red Alex Chidiac pulling the strings in the midfield.

Despite a disappointing ending in its best ever season, Adelaide United has taken a huge step forward in the world of women’s football with a home Women’s World Cup approaching.

The challenge for the Reds now is becoming like Melbourne Victory – a constant challenge in the A-League Women competition. That can only come from serious, consistent investment in the women’s game.

As for the Melbourne Victory, champions find ways to win. A few short weeks after their season looked dead, they have set up a tantalising Melbourne Derby against rivals Melbourne City.

It’s the match that will decide who competes against Sydney FC for the champion’s crown.

The Reds can reflect from the example Victory has set to if they are to remain a long term challenger in the A-League Women.

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