What to watch for: Preliminary Final

We’re set for a Melbourne Derby Preliminary Final in the A-League Women as City and Victory go head-to-head for a spot in the Grand Final.

This will be the third meeting between the teams this season, with each side securing one win apiece so far, but the consequences of those encounters pale in comparison to what’s at stake on Sunday afternoon.

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With this set to be one of the most highly-anticipated Melbourne Derbies in A-League Women’s history, here’s what you’ll need to be keeping an eye out for in the Preliminary Final:

The fallout from City’s Semi Final loss

City’s loss against Sydney FC in its Semi Final last Friday night was costly in more ways than one. The team not only missed out on an automatic place in the Grand Final, which would have been well deserved based on our performance in the opening two-thirds of the contest, but a pair of red card offences later in the contest as Sydney overran us will now disadvantage us in Sunday’s Preliminary Final.

Tyla-Jay Vlajnic was sent off late in regular time for preventing a goal-scoring opportunity and will now likely be replaced by Chelsea Blissett at left wing-back on Sunday. Blissett has already covered for Vlajnic in that position previously this season, most recently helping to secure a clean sheet against Western Sydney in our final game of the regular season.

Later in the Semi Final, Melissa Barbieri was shown a red card for handling the ball outside of the penalty area and will also now miss Sunday’s Melbourne Derby. Rado Vidosic has been cursed by an impossible goalkeeping selection dilemma this season, but that could now become a blessing as he can call upon Australian youth international Sally James in what would be her first start of the season.

Whilst the City squad may have been hit hard by suspensions, strong squad depth will serve the team well as Vidosic calls up two more than capable replacements as we look to secure our passage to a fifth Grand Final.

Hannah Wilkinson back to her destructive best

Since returning from international duty with New Zealand, Hannah Wilkinson has returned to her breath-taking best form following a slightly drier period prior to her departure.

After a goal against Wellington Phoenix capped off a run of eight in three games for Wilkinson, the Kiwi striker then blanked in three of her next five appearances – a run hardly worth mentioning if not for the incredible precedent she’d set for herself!

Wilkinson then went away with the Football Ferns for a brief period in February, only to return emphatically with four goals in her next three games, including two against the Premiership-winners Sydney FC last weekend.

Following a debut A-League Women’s season in which Wilkinson has already re-written the records books countless times over, it could also be on the back of the Kiwi’s goals that City is able to defeat its Derby rival and secure passage into the Grand Final for a rematch against Sydney FC next weekend.

Which Victory are we in for?

Jeff Hopkins’ Victory endured a strange 2022 regular season campaign, highlighted by the surprise nature of their Finals win over the much-fancied Adelaide United last weekend.

After winning their opening three games, Victory’s 5-1 Derby defeat at the hands of City gave way to a mini mid-season catastrophe, with a 4-2 defeat against Brisbane Roar the next week meaning they’d conceded nine goals in two games.

A four-game winning streak would push them back into Finals contention, before Hopkins’ side would underwhelmingly round out its season with a run of five games without a win.

Following their performance against the previously high-flying Adelaide to secure progression to the Preliminary Final, there’s no way of knowing which Melbourne Victory will show up on Sunday, so Vidosic’s side will have to be at its best to ensure they’re able to secure a positive result no matter what.