The A-League Men kicked back into gear on Friday night, with home side Brisbane Roar sharing the spoils with high-flying Adelaide United in an entertaining one-all draw at Dolphin Stadium.
All the pre-match talk was about the potential appearance of Socceroo hero Craig Goodwin, who was due to turn out for Adelaide in his first appearance since his exploits for the national team in Qatar.
But with Goodwin a late scratching from the Reds’ squad due to an untimely bout of influenza, the Queensland crowd were left to focus on whether their team could break the Reds’ four-match unbeaten run in his absence.
Both sides struggled to create a clear-cut opportunity in the early exchanges, before Adelaide’s Japanese striker Hiroshi Ibusuki had his back post header cleared off the line from a well-worked corner routine after 20 minutes.
Roar coach Warren Moon switched his side’s defensive formation to a flat back four on the half-hour mark to counter the Reds’ growing dominance in midfield.
The tactical switch also allowed Brisbane’s Japanese import Riku Danzaki more width to use his explosive pace, and it was his break that led to his midfield counterpart James O’Shea almost opening the scoring.
The Irishman’s drive from the edge of the box was well saved by Reds’ keeper Joe Gauci in the last action of the first half, resulting in the score remaining goalless at half-time.
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Brisbane came out firing after the break, with Danzaki spurning a glorious chance on 55 minutes when failing to connect with Jordan Courtney-Perkins teasing left-wing cross.
With the Roar starting to open up a well-disciplined Reds defence, Adelaide was reduced to relying on the pace of sixteen-year-old Nestory Irankunda, who was a constant thorn in Brisbane’s side after his second-half introduction.
Irankunda’s corner finally provided the breakthrough in 72 minutes, with fellow substitute George Blackwood getting his head on the teenager’s fine delivery to steer the past Brisbane keeper Macklin Freke.
It was a goal that had been promised since early in the game, with Adelaide a constant threat at set pieces due to its height and physicality.
The game then lifted in intensity, with Brisbane desperate to get back on level terms and putting its bodies on the line in a frantic finale.
A late tackle by Courtney Perkins on 84 minutes led to Adelaide midfielder Isaias retaliating on behalf of his team-mate, earning the Spaniard a deserved yellow card.
Just four minutes later it was red for Isaias, when his cynical body check to thwart another Brisbane attack earned him a second booking and an early bath.
Seeking to capitalise on its numerical advantage, Brisbane poured forward in the closing minutes, with substitute Carlo Armiento blazing over from close range to prolong the home crowd’s agony.
The Roar were rewarded just moments later, when Armiento was clumsily brought down just inside the box by the Reds’ Javi Garcia, giving O’Shea the opportunity to level from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game.
The Irishman duly obliged, with his right foot strike past Gauci earning the Roar a deserved point against a well-organised and combative Reds outfit.
Brisbane will need to get more out of marquee striker Charlie Austin, who was strangely subdued on his return to A-League action, if they are to climb any higher than the mid-table spot they currently occupy on the ladder.
As for Adelaide, 12 points from its opening seven fixtures has been an impressive start. If it can harness the pace of youngster Irankunda with the pinpoint crosses and work rate of skipper Goodwin when he returns, it may well be competing for honours come the end of the season.
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