Haley strikes at the death to break Victory hearts and send Sydney FC into the Grand Final

Striker’s late goal spares Sky Blues more agony after missing flurry of chances, writes Tom Smithies at Allianz Stadium

They huffed and puffed, they sweated and fretted and at times went to hell and back – but finally, Sydney FC are in the grand final. 

An 89th minute winner from striker Madison Haley broke Melbourne Victory’s desperate resistance against the Premiers, and earned the Sky Blues a place in the season showpiece against Western United next Sunday.

There will be much debate before then on whether Sydney can break their grand final hoodoo, but for now their only emotion is surely relief after a glut of chances went begging and threatened to leave the best side in the competition over the whole campaign stunned for the second time in six days.

Last weekend Western United had absorbed constant Sky Blue pressure in their semifinal and hit them with a suckerpunch, and for Sydney the feeling of deja vous in this preliminary final was ominous, as they dominated it without – until Haley’s dramatic intervention – being able to strike any kind of decisive blow.

Certainly the Sky Blues looked utterly determined to control the contest; when Victory striker Melina Ayres threatened to break clear early on, Sydney captain Nat Tobin responded with a powerful tackle that set the tone for her side’s display.

With Cortnee Vine largely swamped by defensive attention, Madison Haley became the go-to figure in attack and quickly proved how much she had been missed through injury in previous games.

If it took a little while to find her feet in the contest, suddenly Haley was involved everywhere – producing a crunching tackle on the halfway line, linking play intelligently and unfurling an exquisite reverse pass to send Rachel Lowe clear, only for Casey Dumont to save at Lowe’s feet.

For a period the contest became Sydney against Dumont, saving from Mackenzie Hawkesby and Princess Ibini in quick succession as the home side attacked over and over. The sight of Ayres tackling back alongside her own left back summed up Sydney’s dominance in the first half.

Kristy Fenton of Sydney FC and Ava Briedis of Victory fight for possession.

The switch of ends did nothing to change the balance of the contest, as Sydney swept forward time and again. Vine engineered space with a stepover but then promptly shot over, then Sarah Hunter’s well-judged cross was headed down by Haley for a shot by Lowe straight at Dumont.

Tobin’s slaloming run forward bypassed several defenders and made space for Ibini, only for Kayla Morrison to desperately block the cross. Then Haley created two chances for herself in the box – the first shot brilliantly repelled by Dumont, the second rolling agonisingly past the far post.

Victory were clinging on grimly, their sole attempt on the Sydney goal with 80 minutes gone being a speculative effort from Morrison that barely made it to Jada Whyman in the Sydney goal.

Hawkesby thought she was about to make the breakthrough, freed by Haley’s astute through ball, but Dumont raced from her box to make a crunching tackle. The form keeper of the competition was the main reason why her side was still in the contest.

And then the gods of football decided, spitefully, that there would be a twist in the tail, and that Dumont would be exposed.

Her handling for almost the entire game was faultless, until – with barely a minute left – Hunter’s cross spilled from her grasp and was touched over the line by Haley.

In truth the win was deserved for Sydney, but Dumont in no way deserved to have such a memory. Football can be very cruel.