Aptly described as the “Desperation Derby,” by former player and pundit Robbie Cornthwaite, both Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory entered their Round 12 matchup needing the three points for distinctly different reasons.
Despite looking like one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the World Cup break, the Reds have emerged from the other side looking like a shell of the team that slaughtered Victory at home days before the competition paused.
Since returning from the break, Carl Veart’s side has only won one of its five encounters, being handily defeated in Wellington and Gosford in the process while also suffering a rare home defeat to Newcastle.
On the blue side of this rivalry, Victory’s pre-World Cup break problems have only been amplified since the restart. Tony Popovic’s men cannot create or convert chances, having only scored once and they find themselves winless since the restart, shockingly entering this encounter at the foot of the table.
That turbulence was noticeable for both sides in their starting lineups, with the Reds missing midfield orchestrator Isaias due to a suspension while also requiring fullback Javi Lopez to fill in at centre-back because of the absence of multiple central defenders.
Another noticeable absence on Adelaide’s side was coach Carl Veart who missed the game due to illness, with former Melbourne Victory captain Mark Milligan deputising.
Meanwhile, the Victory entered the matchup with a vastly different starting XI than the side that lost at home to Brisbane. Midfielder Rai Marchan was dropped to the bench, imported defenders Roderick Miranda and Cadete were absent from the travelling squad, and goalkeeper Paul Izzo was also still missing due to injury.
The visitors started energetically, keen to challenge the hosts, but once the adrenaline wore off the lack of confidence and cohesion in their ranks was telling.
Ben Halloran was allowed to waltz in and out of the box and his pass found Craig Goodwin who, as he does so often, cut the ball to his less-preferred right foot and finished past Matt Acton with aplomb to open the scoring only six minutes into the encounter.
With the lead being claimed so early, the attitude of both sides seemed to switch, the Reds became more conservative while Victory pushed for an equaliser.
Careless mistakes crept into Adelaide’s game, with Chris Ikonomidis and Jake Brimmer letting the hosts off the hook with poor final-third efforts, while Melbourne was also rightfully denied a penalty by referee Shaun Evans.
Victory’s lack of creativity and confidence in the final third led to them entering halftime scoreless and a goal behind, but Tony Popovic’s side knew that if the Reds continued playing the game out the way they finished the half that opportunities would present themselves.
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The second half began just like the first ended and only a few minutes in the Victorians found themselves level from arguably the toughest chance of the game.
Captain Josh Brillante’s counterattacking run attracted multiple Adelaide defenders before the midfielder passed the ball back to Nick D’Agostino who gave Joe Gauci no chance with a booming finish from the edge of the penalty arc.
50 minutes into the game, the sides were level once again but plagued by the deficiencies that have dogged their seasons.
On one side, Adelaide’s excellence out wide gets neutralised by its opponents heavily guarding the wide areas and forcing the ball to the middle of the field, where it is no secret it lacks a creative spark.
Meanwhile, Victory has only scored multiple goals twice this season and the lack of confidence and creativity is evident unless their opposition affords them a chance to play in transition.
As the game approached a stalemate, the Reds nearly became architects of their own demise, Nishan Velupillay’s electric run catching the hosts napping. The winger served the ball on a silver platter for fellow substitute Lleyton Brooks who, without taking a touch, blazed over the bar to condemn his side to a solitary point.
With another point on the board, the Reds returned to the top six while Victory temporarily got off the foot of the table, but neither side left Coopers Stadium satisfied with how the match played out.
If the two sides continue their trend of regularly dropping points, season 2022/23 may end as a disappointment for the two sides that entered the season with great expectations, having both appeared in semi-finals at the conclusion of their last campaigns.
Adelaide will remain at home for another week to take on Macarthur, while Melbourne travels west to take on Perth. While both these games are winnable, the two sides will have to improve their offensive outputs against their respective inform oppositions.
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