Nicholas Bucco is a name synonymous with South Australian football and one that holds a special place in the hearts of Adelaide City fans.
At 32 years of age, it is not a surprise not to see him play the minutes he used to in the past, but leaving a player of his quality out of the starting XI in a cup final will always raise eyebrows.
Is Paul Pezos utilising Bucco like this because the midfielder’s star power is fleeting? Anyone that has watched Adelaide City play in 2022 would laugh at that suggestion.
Instead, Pezos regularly uses his squad’s depth to ensure that when Bucco is on the field, he can produce his magical best without being burned out. Many coaches have 11 players they trust to take the field and when it is necessary to play a different face, the anxiousness is contagious.
In the midfield, Pezos possesses capable players like Jai King, Charlie Devereux, Daniel Bressan, Henry Filsell in his first year with the senior team, and of course Bucco.
When City fans saw Bucco start the cup final on the bench they may have been surprised, but the trio of King, Devereux and Bressan would have filled them with confidence. Knowing Bucco would enter the game at some stage in the second half would have been just as comforting.
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The match began just as most would have expected, the NPL SA ladder leaders bossing the encounter against their State League One counterparts. There was little surprise when City forward Ayom Majok nutmegged the Jets goalkeeper to give his side the lead.
Conceding sprung Modbury into life and the underdogs took the game to City, notably Dakota Ochsenham requiring to intervene to shut out a nice piece of interplay produced by the McCabe brothers. The Jets kept coming and whilst the City machine bent, it crucially did not break.
Modbury was unfortunate to concede right as the first half was concluding, Matthew Dawber applying the finishing touch to a Daniel Bressan cross that was not dealt with by the Jets defence.
While the favourites took an expected lead into the break, the first half play did not fully reflect the score line. A comeback would not be easy but not impossible.
Into the second half and with half an hour to go, enter Nicholas Bucco, the experienced midfielder replacing Daniel Bressan.
Just three minutes after his introduction, Bucco found himself invoved in near catastrophic fashion, a trailing high foot from Jets player Darsem Shaksi connecting with the midfielder’s face in the box.
After Bucco was cleared of any damage and Shaksi was given his marching orders by referee Daniel Goodwin, the City veteran converted a confident penalty.
City was three goals up and with the game all but over with State Cup number 18 all but secured, and it would not have been surprising to see complacency start to set in. But Bucco was only getting started, and he was never going to remain quiet on the big stage for too long.
Within half an hour of his introduction, Bucco managed to add to his penalty goal by placing the ball in the bottom corner in the 70th minute and then coolly converting a one on one with a couple of minutes to go to wrap up proceedings.
The magnificent half an hour of action was enough to land the midfielder the Man of the Match award.
This performance did not suggest Bucco was anywhere close to the end of the road, a goal every ten minutes a making up a pretty handy return.
This performance stems from his utilisation and credit must also go to the coach. Despite knowing what a valuable asset Bucco is, Paul Pezos has shown time after time that he is more than happy to lean into the depth of his squad.
He places trust in his younger players to complete a job in his team while ensuring a veteran like Bucco is not needlessly ran into the ground.
When the time comes, be it the first minute or the 60th, Pezos can have full confidence that Bucco will be in an ideal condition to make an impact.
This has never been more evident than the final 30 minutes of the 2022 Federation Cup final. Decisions like this are a major reason why Adelaide City finds itself as the NPL SA Champions, Federation Cup Champions, and about to enter the Australia Cup Round of 32 for the second year in a row as a powerhouse and not a flash in the pan.
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