27/02/2024

Ethan Alagich impressed in his starting debut for Adelaide United (Image: Adelaide United)

Young midfielder Ethan Alagich impressed in his starting debut as the Reds notched their third win in a row heading into the World Cup break.

In what is becoming an annual tradition, a team of Adelaide United legends kitted up to take on a team representing the Australia Defence Force to commemorate Remembrance Day before the day’s A League Men game.

One of those Reds of the past that took the field was fullback Richie Alagich, gracing Coopers Stadium one more time may have been enjoyable but it was far from the peak of his day.

Shortly after the curtain raiser concluded, Carl Veart’s Adelaide United lineup to take on Melbourne Victory was released and it included a surprise for fans in the starting XI.

Ethan Alagich, Richie’s son, was handed his starting debut in what captain Craig Goodwin described as, “the biggest game” in the Reds’ calendar.

Alongside Alagich, Carl Veart reinstated the Spanish double-pivot of Juande and Isaias in the midfield, a combination that was much trusted by the coach in season 2021/22, but only received its first start of the new season six rounds in.

There have been questions about that partnership in the heart of the Reds midfield, but their experience is certainly invaluable when blooding in young players like Alagich.

Veart has been criticized for his cautious approach to midfield selection in the past, but on Friday night Melbourne Victory, a side with a lot of firepower but not many creators, played right into the hands of Adelaide’s double pivot.

With creator-in-chief Jake Brimmer on the bench as a result of a stomach bug, Chris Ikonomidis struggled to fill his boots. A sloppy and indecisive Victory side could not break through the combative Spanish veterans, who shielded their back four to perfection, with consistency.

You may not find his name on the scoresheet, but Ethan Alagich’s influence on the match was clear to see for fans in the stands.

The young attacking midfielder played high up the ground in possession creating spacing on the field which allowed time and space for players like Isaias, Juande, and Alex Popovic to exercise their playmaking qualities.

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Along with being a natural fit for the side, Alagich was not overawed by the occasion, taking the fight to his more experienced opponents and winning the majority of his individual duels, a fact that Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic highlighted about the Adelaide midfield in his post-match interview.

Isaias and Juande have been suspect during counterattacks, but Alagich’s willing defensive effort helped his teammates assert their dominance in transition.

The Reds may not have fired a shot on target, but were comfortably the better side in the game’s first stanza. Hiroshi Ibusuki converted United’s dominance late in the first half by scoring an impressive header from around the penalty spot.

Along with witnessing the early moments of Alagich’s career, fans at Coopers Stadium got to witness former Manchester United winger Nani in action on the other end of his.

At times it felt like Nani’s teammates expected him to take care of much of the creative burden, a fact that fullback Ryan Kitto took advantage of in a strong defensive performance.

Playing under Sir Alex Ferguson, Nani may be used to the concept of “Fergie Time” when his Manchester United side often found itself scoring late to win or seal games, but on Friday night he was introduced to “Veart Time” and a different United side producing the late action.

World Cup-bound captain Craig Goodwin capped off a strong performance by converting a penalty that was won by George Blackwood before the former put the ball on a silver plate for centre-back Ben Warland who completed an emphatic Reds performance in front of a raucous 13,504 fans in the City of Churches.

Post-match it was clear what this milestone meant to Alagich, having grown up watching his father play in fixtures of this magnitude.

“It’s a dream come true and I’ve dreamed of this day for so long now. To make my starting debut, it’s unbelievable and in front of this crowd as well, it’s crazy,” Alagich said post-match.

“I think it’s the best fixture in the league, the Original Rivalry, it can’t get much better than that. It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life and to finally make that happen it’s incredible.”

In his post-match press conference, Carl Veart accepted that this was a litmus test for his young player, one that came with the support of fellow experienced midfielders Isaias and Juande. Alagich did not just show he can hang at that level, instead, he proved that he comfortably belongs.

The benefit of playing young players is that they have a lot of improvement ahead of them and Alagich will experience this in his journey and could become an accomplished player like father Richie or aunt Dianne if he continues putting in the hard work that’s got him so far.

Having a risk like starting such an inexperienced player at a tough spot and succeeding payoff should hopefully give Veart license to experiment with other worthwhile young players in his squad once the A-League Men competition returns from the World Cup break.

The Reds have been able to arrest a quiet start to the season with three strong wins on the bounce and will be focusing on continuing their roll in December.

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