The crowd at Coopers Stadium on Saturday afternoon witnessed what is quickly becoming stale staple fare for Pep Gombau’s United side. The tiki taka tuition that the Spanish coach has undertaken at the Reds this season again resulted in dominant possession statistics but, as was all too evident in Adelaide’s previous travels to the Central Coast and West Sydney, the team failed to translate this into attacking cohesion.
Hosting the Newcastle Jets, a team that many locals would have expected to beat, the Reds selected XI remained intact from last week, with Cassio and Bruce Djite returning from injury to strengthen options off the bench. The visiting Jets had yet to record a win in the A-League season prior to the match at Coopers Stadium, with several Adelaide alumni in goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and former ‘young gun’ Nathan Burns fronting up against the Reds.
While Adelaide were patient in their buildup, passing the ball repeatedly across the back line with Osama Malik dropping in to create a back three at times, they consistently failed to transition into the middle and final third with enough speed to find space. On the other hand the Jets were disciplined in retaining their shape and only sprung into attack when the Reds were left exposed.
The performance of Tarek Elrich was a personal highlight for United over the ninety minutes. Elrich’s smart runs forward, both inside and wide of Fabio Ferreira ahead of him on the right, showed the most promise offensively in the first half. In defence the full-back demonstrated great timing in nipping ahead of the underwhelming Burns on more than one occasion, while Elrich’s enormous stamina was crucial in recovering the ball for United, saving a certain goal with a timely intervention inside the penalty area as Adelaide were caught scrambling on the counter early on.
In an attacking sense the Reds continue to work the ball across the pitch well, but a combination of players being unsuccessful in dribbling past opponents and the lack of a combative aerial presence up front caused increasing consternation for the home crowd. Having gone behind shortly before the break and then conceding another after the half the wind seemed to be knocked from United’s sails and the mood around the ground descended sharply.
Gombau’s second half changes saw Steven Lustica injected into midfield and later, as their trademark possession play became more desperate and direct, Bruce Djite came on to offer another target up front. Jeronimo, who was guilty of overplaying the ball for much of the game, did rescue some pride with a fantastic ball for the unmarked Ferreira to easily head home, but an equaliser was not to be found.
In fairness to the Jets this was a fair reflection on the game. Birighitti and Eugene Galekovic traded a fair number of saves across the ninety, but while the away side clinically punished some slack marking at set-pieces for the first, and a lack of tracking for the second, United rarely crafted opportunities of a similar standard.
This weekend brings a trip to Perth, for whom William Gallas may debut, which will prove another stern test as Gombau’s doubters grow in number and volume. Signs of improvement will steady the side, but over the course of the Newcastle match such signs were severely lacking.