The first loss of the season for Josep Gombau’s Adelaide United came at the hands of the reigning champions Central Coast Mariners. Gombau’s system saw Adelaide in control of the ball for extended periods only to be ineffective in creating clear-cut chances against the Mariners defence.
Graham Arnold’s men were set up to absorb such pressure and after taking the lead within the first two minutes through Nick Fitzgerald, deserved the three points they ground out.
Adelaide had lost Jeronimo to injury on the eve of the game which meant replacement forward Brent McGrath got his chance in the eleven. Spanish import Isaias returned to the team after serving his suspension while Nigel Boogaard slotted into the back four, pushing Osama Malik further forward in a more familiar holding midfield role.
Like the two previous games at Coopers Stadium the Reds were often caught short on numbers as the home side countered. United once again sorely missed Marcelo Carrusca’s vision and deft touch in a central attacking role. After playing a central midfield role last week Sergio Cirio returned to his more comfortable wide forward position, showing his strength as a direct runner with quick feet, but when given the chance he lacked composure in front of goal.
Across the pitch the Reds rarely created shooting opportunities and embarrassingly finished the ninety minutes without a single shot on target.
The patient play of Adelaide in building from the back was subtly nullified by a concentrated effort from the well-organised Central Coast – still adjusting to some personnel changes of their own. The signs of this struggle had showed somewhat against the Glory and the Victory, with the Reds relying upon defensive (or refereeing) error and a touch of luck to trouble the scorers.
While sticking with this Barcelona-inspired passing game is paramount to Gombau’s footballing vision, it is clear that some fresh ideas are needed on the pitch, namely in terms of moving the ball into the final third. In the positive column, and to Gombau’s great credit, he continues to give local youth players their chance at A-League level with teenager Ryan Kitto, a West Torrens Birkalla junior, making his debut.
For Adelaide next week the task looks no easier, on the road again to visit the Premiers Western Sydney Wanderers. Hopefully the Reds will be strengthened by the return of Carrusca and perhaps even Jeronimo, with Bruce Djite and Cassio reported to be still some way off match fitness. Again Adelaide will face a team more than comfortable with conceding the majority of possession, confident in creating enough opportunities to score on the counter.
While it is still early days in reaping the rewards of United’s journey to a new footballing philosophy, it will certainly be another stern test for Gombau and co. against the Wanderers and in front of the A-League’s most notorious fans.