Canberra United have moved five points clear at the top of the Westfield W-League after narrowly defeating Melbourne Victory 2-1 at McKellar Park thanks to goals from Ashleigh Sykes and Taryn Hemmings.

United led 2-0 at the break and survived a late Victory surge to claim the maximum return for the fourth match in a row.

Not surprisingly, given their impressive start to the season, Canberra United named an unchanged line-up for the visit of Melbourne Victory as they aimed to record a fourth win in a row.

United had struggled with the physicality of Melbourne in the past but it was Canberra who fronted up early on with leading scorer Michelle Heyman bustling her way towards goal and firing a low shot from twenty-five metres that Brianna Davey in the Victory net needed to be alert to, diving to her right to push the effort around the post.

Victory’s response was impressive with English forward Jodie Taylor racing clear and rounding Lydia Williams only to send her strike across the face of goal from an acute angle with the empty net gaping. If that was a let off for the home team then they were obliged to Williams on the quarter hour mark.

A raking pass from Katrina Gorry on the half-volley released Stephanie Catley who advanced behind the United back-four and hit a fierce effort that Williams stood up to, parrying the ball to safety.

United’s best opening of the first twenty minutes came when Taryn Hemmings and Heyman combined with Caitlin Munoz with the Matildas international hammering her left foot shot just past the near post. However, it wasn’t long before United broke the deadlock with another superbly crafted goal.

Sally Shipard was the architect winning a crunching challenge half-way inside the Victory half before playing a precise pass down the right flank to the rampaging Ellyse Perry.

Perry sent over a dangerous low cross to the near post where Ashleigh Sykes, running across the front of her marker, arrived first to stab the ball past the despairing Davey and into the net for her second goal of the season.

The Victory really should have levelled matters four minutes later wasting a glorious chance to equalise. Amy Jackson’s low ball into the penalty area saw Catley and Gorry get in each other's way before the ball fell kindly for the former who hammered her shot over the bar with the goal at her mercy.

Catley was at the forefront again in the 34th minute getting on the end of a Taylor cutback but again leaning back and smashing her shot way over the crossbar.

Canberra made Melbourne pay for their profligacy when they doubled their lead six minutes from half time in spectacular fashion. Munoz sent a sweeping pass over the back of the Victory defence to Hemmings who crashed a half-volley of venomous power into the top corner of the net with Davey left grasping thin air.

Leading 2-0 United made a tactical change at the interval sending on Kahlia Hogg for the industrious Jennifer Bisset and it wasn’t long before Hogg was involved in the build-up that led to Heyman curling an ambitious effort just wide from distance. With Shipard and Munoz in swashbuckling form in central midfield United began to take a firm grip on proceedings with the visitors being out-fought in the critical areas of the field.

Even with the two-goal advantage United’s lead did, at times, seem precarious and Williams had to be at her usual brilliant best in making a superb double save to deny Taylor and Gorry in the 67th minute. Jitka Klimkova responded to this threat by withdrawing goal scorer Ashleigh Sykes and replacing her with the lively Queenslander Hayley Raso.

It was somewhat against the run of play therefore that Victory got themselves back into the match with a fine finish from Kendall Fletcher.

Receiving a pass through the flat United defence Fletcher took aim from just inside the penalty box and flashed a shot across Williams and into the back of the net to set up a nervy last fifteen minutes or so for the league leaders.

The Victory threw everything at United in that last quarter but some stout defence kept them out and preserved United’s percent record.

Canberra United 2 (Ashleigh Sykes 24’, Taryn Hemmings 39’)
Melbourne Victory 1 (Kendall Fletcher 78’)
at McKellar Park, Belconnen, Attendance: 732