07/12/2023

Adelaide United players celebrating Ben Halloran's injury time goal. (Image: Adelaide United)

Carl Veart’s Adelaide United had a flair for the dramatic in season 2021/22, claiming most of its points in the last 15 minutes of games and often from positions of disadvantage. The Reds’ 2022/23 story started in a similar way.

Despite the Phoenix marking their permanent return to home soil, it was the visitors that controlled the game at the start. The Reds bossed the ball, but Ufuk Talay’s side was well set up and did not allow the visitors to convert their dominance.

The match was thrown a curveball 25 minutes in when Wellington import Yan Sasse was sent off for an accidental, but reckless, tackle on Javi Lopez. The fullback was fortunately fine to continue and the Reds proceeded to play out the rest of the match with the advantage of the extra man.

Despite the numerical advantage, the Reds could not trouble Oli Sail, the Phoenix comfortably ushering their visitors to the wider parts of the field which they were happy to take up.

Adelaide tends to play a high-crossing game, but without Craig Goodwin and Hiroshi Ibusuki on the pitch, two crucial cogs in that system, the Reds were left toothless in attack against the low block.

The two sides entered the half time break level on the scoreboard. Despite the Reds dominating time on the ball, Carl Veart’s side did not do much to trouble its dogged opposition.

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The second half played out in a similar way in terms of possession, but there was a stark difference in the way each team attacked its opposition.

While the Reds were happy to accept the wide areas, crossing the ball in every available opportunity to no avail, the Phoenix were fast and direct with their limited opportunities in transition.

Alarm bells were going off for Adelaide when a reorganised Phoenix side looked more menacing with less possession. Bozhidar Kraev could have opened the scoring when he found himself one-on-one with Joe Gauci, but shot straight at the keeper.

Adelaide did not heed that warning, and another lightning-quick Phoenix counterattack saw substitute Ben Waine open the scoring for the side that had played 50 minutes with a man down. It was just reward for the resilient defending on display and for being brave when in control of the ball.

In contrast, the Reds did not try to play through Wellington’s low block, instead happy to cross the ball a grand total of 40 times and hope for the best. It was something that a team a man light would have been happy to defend over a side actively trying to exploit its numerical advantage.

Like they have done so many times in the last 12 months, the Reds sparked into action in the last 15 minutes. The game-plan remained similar, but a renewed sense of urgency evident in United’s search for an equaliser.

When hope seemed all but lost and injury time was starting to wind down, Carl Veart’s side did what Carl Veart’s side does best and it found a late goal.

A Craig Goodwin corner fell to Ben Halloran, who was composed enough to carefully guide the ball in the back of the net to earn his side a point against the plucky hosts.

If this match showed anything, it was Adelaide United’s reliance on players like Goodwin and Ibusuki for the way it wants to play.

They are both important parts of the system, but the Reds must find more ways to make their presence felt in matches of football than purely crossing and hoping for chaos to ensue in the box.

While the Reds have shown they can thrive in chaos late in games, and that it can be an important attribute to possess, they must also ensure that they are not the reason chaos is required in the first place.

This match was there for the taking, and the Reds played in a way that invited Wellington to make a game out of what should have been a routine win after Sasse was sent off 25 minutes into the match.

Adelaide United takes a point back to South Australia and the opportunity to reflect with little consequences suffered.

The Reds must be a lot better going forward and defending the opposition in transition if they are to give Macarthur a challenge in Campbelltown. Last year they entered this fixture with similar issues, and the match ended a one-sided contest in favour of the hosts.

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