‘We sent them a message’: Defiant Victory capitalise on slipping rivals in Melbourne Derby triumph

Coach Jeff Hopkins says Melbourne Victory have no plans of being hunted down by the chasing pack after the reigning Liberty A-League champions beat Melbourne City 2-0 to close on a finals berth.

Star striker Melina Ayres scored a penalty in the 16th minute and set up Paige Zois for a stunning long-range goal four minutes later at AAMI Park.

Victory sit fourth on 26 points, two behind third placed City but now with a crucial buffer on the chasing pack of Canberra (21 points), Brisbane (20) and Perth (19).

Brisbane upset second-placed Western United on Saturday while Wellington stunned leaders Sydney FC, and Hopkins said Victory had been determined not to slip up.

“Really important actually. We’ve kind of highlighted today and the next three games as being really important to us,” Hopkins said.

“A derby win, obviously we can’t take that away. That’s of massive importance to us. Whether it’s a game to get us into the finals or not, to beat City means everything to us. So that’s a huge bonus for us. 

“But also, I think looking at the weekend and the results that have gone and everyone tripping up, or stumbling, it was really important that we then didn’t do the same. 

“People have been sending us messages the last few weeks and we sent them a little bit of a message that we’re not ready to be run down by anyone.”

Zois made a profound impact on proceedings at AAMI Park in an uncustomary role for the traditional midfielder; the 19-year-old was thrust into full-back by Victory boss Hopkins, directly matched up against Matildas gun Holly McNamara.

The plan was for Zois to quell McNamara’s impact on the game, but instead she stole the show herself, bagging a rocket strike from distance which gave Victory breathing room, and ultimately helped the champions notch three points.

McNamara was brilliant in her own right for City, but Victory held on to strike a hammer blow to City’s hopes of competing with Sydney and Western United (33 points apiece) for the premiership.

Victory snatched the lead via the penalty spot after Emma Checker blocked a long-range Ayres shot but was controversially penalised for handball.

Ayres stepped up and coolly drilled the penalty into the bottom corner.

“From what I saw, I don’t think it was a penalty. I think it hit Emma in the middle of the back, but I haven’t got a clear view, just a fast one on the highlights,” City coach Dario Vidosic said. 

“It’s one of those decisions that sort of swung the game but all in all, our first 45 just wasn’t good enough.”

Victory doubled their lead just four minutes later.

The ball ricocheted around the area and Ayres had the presence of mind to sidefoot it out to Zois outside the 18-yard box.

The young midfielder-turned-defender leathered the ball first-time to beat Sally James with an unstoppable strike.

From there, Victory were able to withstand City’s weight of possession and several clear chances to close out the game.