Vine Time! Matildas star returns to settle Grand Final rematch

Check out the highlights from the Grand Final rematch between Western United and Sydney FC.

Cortnee Vine returned from injury to lead defending champions Sydney FC past Western United 1-0 in a rematch of last season’s Liberty A-League Grand Final.

Vine had spent the past two weeks sidelined by a calf injury but the Matildas star was fit enough to be among the substitutes before she came off the bench to settle Sunday’s Unite Round contest Allianz Stadium.

Introduced on the hour, Vine changed the game and scored within 10 minutes – getting on the end of a sublime Princess Ibini 70th-minute delivery – as she not only bagged her third goal of the season but guided the Sky Blues to just their second victory in six matches.

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The result snapped Western’s three-game unbeaten streak as they dropped down to fifth in the standings, while Sydney catapulted themselves up to third amid their seven-match undefeated streak.

The last time the two sides met, Sydney dominated Western to win the Liberty A-League Championship in April 2023.

Fast forward nine months to Sunday’s Grand Final rematch and plenty had changed since that night – Western have a new coach in Kat Smith and the 2022-23 runners-up were by far the better side in the opening half.

With Grace Maher wearing the captain’s armband in her 100th Liberty A-League appearance, Western were on the front foot and controlling proceedings without breaking the deadlock.

Western’s Alana Cerne was at the heart of the action with three great chances.

Cerne nearly had her maiden league goal in the 12th minute, but her attempt was blocked inside the six-yard box, while she saw her close-range header rattle the crossbar following another dangerous set-piece four minutes later.

Sydney had star goalkeeper Jada Whyman to thank on the hour mark when her out-stretched foot sensationally denied Keiwa Hieda.

Cerne had another opportunity five minutes before half-time – the Western star was again thwarted by a blocked shot inside the six-yard box.

Sydney fans tried to cheer their team on, though the Sky Blues often saw their attacks break down in the final third but the grew into the contest the longer the match wore on.

After their first corner in the 57th minute, Sydney appealed for a penalty, however, the flag was quickly raised for offside – ruining any hope of a spot-kick.

There was a big roar on the hour mark when Vine was introduced by Ante Juric’s Sydney.

Her introduction and pace changed the complexion of the game and she was the one to break the deadlock within 10 minutes of entering the pitch.

Ibini’s inch-perfect cross split Western’s defence and it picked out Vine, who got in ahead of reigning Goalkeeper of the Year Hillary Beall to poke home with 20 minutes remaining.

Sydney went so close to doubling their lead a minute later but Abbey Lemon’s volley sailed just wide of the post following some more great work from Vine.

Beall was left scrambling to keep out Lemon’s effort six minutes from time as she tipped it over the crossbar for a corner.

Sydney boss Ante Juric was also shown a red card following the final whistle for “abusive and offensive language towards a match official”.

The Talking Point

At half-time, Sydney were outplayed by Western and fortunate to be on level terms.

The Sky Blues had also failed to register a shot on target, but things changed in the second half, especially when the titleholders turned to Vine for a spark from the 60-minute mark.

Sydney ended the match with more shots on target than Western – highlighting just how much the contest changed in the second half.

Sky Blues defender Charlotte McLean explained what was said at half-time.

“I’m so proud. We’ve been really pushing to get a win recently. We’ve been struggling a bit in the front third but I’m so proud of the effort,” McLean told Paramount+, with Sydney now unbeaten since November 26.

“At half-time, we thought they were showing more heart and we said that’s just not allowed in our stadium.

“We came out and gave it back to them.”

On the first-half struggles, Juric added: “We were sort of 85-90% – we were competing but not at 100%.

“I just explained to them that if we played at 100% we would win the game.”

The Star

Look no further than Matildas forward Vine.

Sydney needed a spark and they needed a goal. The champions got it from their poster girl.

It has been an injury-hit season for Vine, who was a star of the Matildas’ historic 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil. A calf problem forced her to miss recent matches but she was deemed fit enough to be on the bench on Sunday.

As soon as she entered the fray against Western, she wreaked havoc. Her pace sparked doubts in her opponents heads and she only needed 10 minutes before finding the back of the net.

“Cortnee Vine was definitely the game-changer,” said A-Leagues legend Cath Cannuli.

“She come on, you could see how much she was raring to go. You could see how much Sydney FC were going down that right-hand side and getting Vine in behind.

“She was the difference today. She is a definite goalscorer.”

Vine herself told Paramount+: “It’s always nice to score as a striker. You can’t complain.

“Obviously hyped that we got three points back at Allianz. It’s exactly the streak we want to continue and hopefully I can play more games.”

Asked if it was always the plan to play 30 minutes, she replied: “Definitely. It was a bit iffy, I wasn’t sure if I was going to participate.

“I’m happy I got the 20-30 minutes. I felt great my calf felt good. So, great.”

What it means

Make that seven matches without defeat for in-form Sydney.

The Sky Blues are third in the standings and seven points behind leaders Melbourne City with a game in hand.

Next up is a clash with Central Coast Mariners on Wednesday, January 17.

Western slipped to fifth in the table, two points behind Sydney.

They will host Adelaide United on Sunday, January 21.