Star attacker fires City top of the standings in first Melbourne Derby of the season

Emina Ekic's first-half goal was the difference in the first Liberty A-League Melbourne Derby of the season.

Melbourne City have returned to the top of the Liberty A-League standings after defeating arch-rivals Melbourne Victory 1-0 at AAMI Park.

Emina Ekic’s sensational first-half goal was the difference between the two sides in the first Melbourne Derby of the year on Saturday evening, mazing her way through the Victory defence before coolly placing the ball past Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams.

The win takes City three points clear of Perth Glory atop the ladder heading into Christmas, after Alex Epakis’ side fell to defeat against Western United a day earlier.

Meanwhile, Victory’s six-game unbeaten run came to an end, but remain inside the top four, a point clear of Western in the standings.

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City were immediately on the front foot and took the lead within 10 minutes. Rhianna Pollicina fed through Ekic, who cut back inside onto her left foot and curled it past the outstretched arm of Williams.

Chances were few and far between for Victory in the first stanza, but they almost instantly brought the game level as Kurea Okino forced a smart stop from Lysianne Proulx.

But City’s press continued to cause problems, along with their speed in behind, and this time it was Leticia McKenna who broke forward from midfield and had her one-on-one strike by Williams.

And Williams was again called into action, denying Pollicina’s goal-bound effort, after some brilliant work down the flank from Daniela Galic.

Victory weathered the storm and almost brought the game level on the brink of half-time, when Kayla Morrison put her open header just wide of the mark.

Jeff Hopkins’ Victory started brightly after half-time and twice hit the woodwork. First, McKenzie Weinert cross’ was turned onto the bar by Rachel Lowe, before Okino’s volley was parried onto the post by Proulx.

City did well to weather the storm and almost doubled their advantage with minutes remaining, but once again Williams stood firm to deny Galic from close range.

Victory almost stole a point with minutes remaining when Weinert’s cross found Beattie Goad at the back post, and after bringing the ball under control, she fired her effort just over the bar.

The talking point

Melbourne City’s first-half was one of the most impressive this Liberty A-League season.

Dario Vidosic’s side were all over their opponents from the word go, and probably should have led by more had it not been for wayward finishing and tremendous goalkeeping from Lydia Williams.

Victory boss Jeff Hopkins lamented their poor start, which by comparison to their second-half outing was lightyears apart.

“Pretty disappointed with our performance in the first half,” he said.

“I thought… we weren’t brave enough with the ball. Looked a little bit scared to play.

“Bit affected by the game, I think and also probably even in myself, that I took too long to maybe make any changes that we’d started to make.

“They were getting well on top of us in certain areas of the field, so yeah, really disappointing first half.”

While Hopkins lamented their poor-start, City boss Dario Vidosic spoke glowingly of their performance.

“I thought our first 45, we were unbelievable,” he said.

“We could have been three-four goals up to the good, and it could have been finished.”

Vidosic was asked whether he thought Hopkins was being “unkind” to City in that Victory weren’t at the proverbial races in the first-half, in comparison to them being on another level throughout the opening 45 minutes.

“I think so, I think we were very, very good,” he said.

The star

Emina Ekic put together arguably her best performance since returning to Melbourne City.

The Bosnian international stole the show, particularly in the first-half, where she and her City teammates took full control of the contest. Ekic capped it off with a well taken goal, opening the scoring after 10 minutes.

And she would have enjoyed that performance even more knowing many of her family members were in attendance.

“We know her quality. She was very, very good,” Vidosic said.

What this means

Melbourne City now sit top of the Liberty A-League standings heading into Christmas, three points clear of Perth Glory.

Dario Vidosic’s side were at their brilliant best against Melbourne Victory, as they were able to lock the ball in their attacking half and press their opponents into oblivion in the opening half.

They next face Brisbane Roar on Thursday at AAMI Park.

It’s back to the drawing board for Victory, who take on Western Sydney Wanderers away from home next Saturday.