Victory topple Adelaide, Canberra loom
Melbourne Victory will enter the Westfield W-League finals campaign on a high after torching Adelaide United 4-1 at windswept Burton Park.
After the Reds got on the board first through Marijana Rajcic, Melbourne replied with three first-half goals inside the space of 14 minutes - the last two seemingly unintentional, aided by a stiff north-westerly breeze - and a fourth in the dying seconds of the contest courtesy of Kendall Fletcher to transform a potential upset into a rout.
In terms of the composition of the finals, the result was academic for the visitors, who earlier had breathed a sigh of relief when nearest rival Newcastle Jets suffered an upset 4-2 loss to Perth Glory on Saturday.
That result ended Newcastle's finals prospects and secured Victory a second successive top-four berth and a knock-out clash with premiers Canberra.
But the weekend's results weren't so kind to the Lady Reds, who have snatched this season's wooden spoon from Perth's grasp as a result of the two final-round outcomes.
Melbourne looked good early when, returning from suspension, former Lady Reds midfielder Katrina Gorry's third minute strike against her old side looked on target but flew just over.
At the other end, in the fifth minute, United striker Donna Cockayne was fractionally late in her attempt to toe-poke Katherine Ebbs' cross from close range.
The opening salvo was frenetic and physical, Adelaide particularly so.
Cockayne's aggressive challenge on Maika Ruyter-Hooley left the tall Victory defender in the hands of the trainers before Caitlin Friend was felled shortly after.
While Adelaide seemed to take their eye off the ball, Melbourne pounced and the Lady Reds were pinned in their own half for prolonged periods.
Ashley Brown prematurely raised her arms in celebration in the 11th minute when she thought she'd penetrated, but her close shot was wayward, followed by another Brown miss in the 18th minute which the luckless striker hit hard but into the post after swallowing a wonderful through ball from Gorry.
In a rare attacking foray, the Reds almost broke through in the 20th minute when Rajcic caught Melbourne custodian Brianna Davey out of position with a looping header, which was only denied by some smart thinking from Amy Jackson, who got off her line and booted it over for a goal-line clearance.
Rajcic made no mistake with a superb nod from the ensuing, perfectly-weighted corner for the opening goal in the 21st minute.
Gorry created problems for Dave Edmondson's side early and was rewarded in the 31st minute when, in something of a role reversal, received a pass from skipper Jodie Taylor and, one out with Lady Reds keeper Sian McLaren, fired a left-footer under the diving United goalie for the equaliser.
The right-hand upright denied English-born spearhead Taylor - who was starting to break free of Adelaide captain Abby Erceg - in the 34th minute after she'd found some room and left the Reds scrambling after an excellent turn.
Two minutes later though, Victory took the lead when Brown's attempted cross deceived McLaren and floated into the back of the net, the 17-year-old winger's highly-anticipated first-ever Westfield W-League goal.
Brown's cross was caught in the strong wind and appeared thoroughly accidental.
Melbourne were almost aided by the gusty breeze again when, in the 44th minute, Rebekah Stott's cross found Friend, whose header swirled off target.
A minute later, Friend was the beneficiary of the conditions when her long left-foot cross from outside the 18-yard box shaped like a left-arm pace bowler's outswinger, over a perplexed McLaren and, bizarrely, into the top-right corner of the net on the other side.
Ahead 3-1 at the interval, Melbourne's second half was played at a less extreme pace, with the wind having died down and the baking South Australian mid-summer heat taking its toll.
A diving, finger-tipped McLaren save denied Taylor a 52nd minute goal after the experienced striker had fired a lefty which looked like pounding into the top corner.
With the win assured, Victory appeared to be going through the motions for much of the second half, only occasionally delivering a spark or two.
Gorry was still looking ominous and her 79th minute effort almost made it No. 4, but her shot on the right-hand side of the penalty area was blocked by McLaren, a fine stop in a breaking one-on-one situation.
Gorry had another chance a minute later, but the tiny midfielder's attempt, in plenty of space, was sprayed well wide on a counterattack.
The fourth goal finally arrived after the 90-minute mark when midfielder Fletcher, after some good football on the wing from Taylor, put one past McLaren after the ball had ricocheted off Erceg from the American's previous attempt.
Adelaide United 1 (Rajcic 21)
Melbourne Victory 4 (Gorry 31, Brown 36, Friend 45, Fletcher 90)
@ Burton Park, 15/1/2012