21/04/2024

Adelaide United captain Craig Goodwin celebrates doubling his side's lead against Western United. (Image: Adelaide United)

Western United claimed its maiden A-League Men 2021/22 Championship off the back of its tenacious defence which had the invaluable ability to doggedly defend slender leads.

Carl Veart’s Adelaide United side was one of the countless victims of John Aloisi’s ‘One-Nil FC’ at AAMI Park last season, but a new season found both sides in different situations.

As often is the case in the A-League Men, the Champions have been anything but secure in the defence of their crown.

Western United entered its Round 5 encounter with the Reds winless after four games and having conceded an uncharacteristically high 10 goals.

Meanwhile, after some ill fortune in the opening few rounds, the Reds secured a win in their first home game of the season against Perth.

Despite being the team in form, the Reds were rocked when Dylan Wenzell-Halls put the ball in the back of the net with Western’s first attack of the match, the assistant referee bailing out the visitors by ruling the goal out for offside.

Adelaide did not seem to heed the early warning, with Western finding itself one on one with Joe Gauci on two more occasions, the Reds custodian keeping his side level.

The Champions huffed and puffed, but it was Hiroshi Ibusuki that blew the proverbial house down, the forward converting Craig Goodwin’s perfectly placed corner to open the scoring despite his side’s slow start.

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Just after the 20th minute, fullback Josh Risdon was caught out in transition which saw Adelaide captain Craig Goodwin get on the ball with time and space.

The Socceroos hopeful once again caught out the fullback by cutting onto his less preferred right before blasting past Jamie Young’s near post to double his side’s lead.

Western defender Leo Lacroix and his form have been a microcosm of the Champions’ troubles in season 2022/23. The centre-back played with an aura of invincibility last season, rarely ever bested, but this year he has been fatally mortal.

Just after the half-hour mark, a mishit George Blackwood shot saw the defender turn the ball into his own net for the second time this season, far from the first individual error for Lacroix and his backline.

The Reds strolled into halftime with a comfortable three-goal lead, while the Champions were left shell-shocked – a regular occurrence so far in this young season.

To show just how dismal Western United has been defensively this season, the Champions conceded seven goals between the second half of Round 4 and the first half of Round 5, an amount it took them the first nine games to concede last season.

While the Reds entered game-management mode in the second half, subbing off aging right-back Javi Lopez for the energetic Harry Van der Saag, Western showed ambition in chasing the game with their own substitution, Nicolas Milanovic replacing the underperforming James Troisi.

Just as he did in the previous week, Milanovic found himself in a good position in the box and scored, grabbing a much-needed goal for the visitors while also prompting questions about why he was dropped in the first place.

The Reds did not control the game as well as they would have hoped, but a two-goal advantage is just that, an advantage, and they were able to make the most of it.

Van der Saag was able to dispossess Connor Pain before proceeding to leave Lacroix in his dust to set up Ben Halloran for a simple tap in to restore his side’s three-goal lead.

As the game wrapped up, Joe Gauci comfortably saved a penalty from Lachlan Wales, before his own misjudgement led to Dylan Pierias recording a late consolation.

The Reds have now won two on the trot and will be welcoming arch-rivals Melbourne Victory hot off their demolition of Newcastle. Before that event occurs, Craig Goodwin will undoubtedly receive the World Cup nod from Graham Arnold, and the Friday night stage at Hindmarsh may be the perfect opportunity to sign off in style.

The in-form Reds may not want the World Cup break to occur, but winless after five with a trip to New Zealand to come in Round 6 for Western United, the break cannot come quickly enough.

John Aloisi will be devising ways to stop the rut during the break, but if anything it may be the circuit breaker his side needs if it has any hope of even attempting to retain a crown that is slipping further beyond its reach every week.

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