Western United midfielder Emma Robers celebrates an injury time winner against Adelaide United (Image: Western United)

A hot and windy Adelaide afternoon saw the Reds take on Western for the first time in A League Women history with late drama deciding the match.

The  A League Women’s two United sides faced each other for the first at South Australia’s State Center for Football and the first half of the action did not live up to the moniker the two sides share.

Both teams entered the matchup with a potential win placing them outright in top spot, but instead of free-flowing football, fans were treated to a disrupted state of affairs for the majority of the first half, with the blistering and windy conditions playing a part.

The match was stopped quickly after it began, Western defender Stacey Papadopoulos’ mistimed challenge leaving her concussed before hitting the ground and in need of paramedic care. This combined with two drink breaks within six minutes and stoppages for injuries to Emily Condon and Nano Sasaki provided a frustrating stop-start opening 45 minutes for fans in attendance with neither side completely able to get their games going.

The frustration compounded for both sides as it was clear both coaches had put plans in place to limit important features of their opposition’s game. For Adelaide, forward Chelsie Dawber was pressed early when dropping deep to receive the ball, Mark Torcaso clearly seeing it as the obvious route for the Reds’ goals in the previous week. Meanwhile, Adelaide did not give an inch to Western in the midfield, and the absence of Matilda Chloe Logarzo in the starting XI was heavily felt.

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Both Stenta and Torasco made half-time changes to gain an upper hand. The Reds swapped Emilia Murray and Chelsie Dawber to the left and right wings respectively, while Western introduced Chloe Logarzo to gain some quality and representation in the middle of the park against the accomplished Adelaide trio of Nano Sasaki, Dylan Holmes, and Emily Condon.

The changes were clearly effective and both sides created their best chances of the game at that point, only minutes into the second half. First Emilia Murray could not make a sweet connection with a well-placed Xiao Yuyi cross before Hannah Keen forced Annalee Grove into action moments later at the other end of the field.

It was the Reds that opened the scoring 10 minutes later, Dylan Holmes picking out a lively Chelsie Dawber who made a central run from the right flank. The ball was so well placed between Western’s ‘keeper and defender that they took each other out in their attempted clearance, presenting the Adelaide forward with the opportunity to tap in her first goal of the season after playing the role of provider in the first two rounds.

Just like it did the week before, Adelaide earned a lead with an ample amount of time to defend it. Western United gained the ascendency after the Red scored, but did not look as menacing as Perth, which came close to scoring multiple times, did the previous week.

Adelaide allowed Western the ball and players like Chloe Logarzo and Jessica McDonald did not need a second invitation to attack. Despite the talent and industry available for the visitors on the pitch, Annalee Grove and her backline remained composed while their forwards could have scored a sealer as the game drew toward its conclusion.

The script was written with twists and turns for the Reds though as they invited pressure onto themselves. In the first minute of injury time, a desperate Jessica McDonald long throw into the box spilled out of the area and an unlikely hero in the shape of defender Sydney Cummings produced a shot that was deflected out of Grove’s reach, breaching the goalkeeper’s net for the first time in Season 2022/23.

If that did not teach Adrian Stenta’s side a lesson about the importance of closing out games, an eerily similar goal for Western United certainly concluded the cautionary tale. As the game entered its final minute, a Western corner spilled out of the box to a similar area to where Sydney Cummings scored her goal, this time midfielder Emma Robers volleyed with aplomb to shock the home side and earn all three points for the visitors.

After three rounds, the competition’s newest team, Western United, finds itself clear on top of the ladder. Moments like the ones experienced in Adelaide are sure to create a belief among the playing group and fans about what the club can achieve in its maiden season.

Meanwhile, despite looking solid for the majority of the match, the Reds are left kicking themselves for dropping all three points in a situation that was in their control until the dying moments. Adelaide United are no longer the hunters, and in more games, than not sides will be out to claim an impressive scalp against them, they must play accordingly to avoid situations like this reoccurring.

After a perfect start to the season, Western United gets to enjoy a much-deserved week off before returning in Round Five to take on an equally impressive Melbourne City.

Meanwhile, the Reds have an opportunity to right Round Three’s wrongs when they visit the Western Sydney Wanderers in what should be a comfortable win if they play to their potential, but another frustrating setback if complacency begins setting in too early. The potential returns of Fiona Worts and Emily Hodgson in the coming weeks shape up as a big bonus as the Reds search for difference-makers on the field.

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