Validation for United?

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Saturday’s 4-0 victory against reigning Champions Central Coast Mariners had been a long time coming. Adelaide had not won a game since Round One against Perth Glory, with opponents repeatedly finding fault with the United backline and the Reds forward threat negated by a lack of cohesion, luck and most disappointingly, belief in recent fixtures.

For those home fans who braved a sunny Saturday afternoon at Coopers Stadium there was little indication a change of fortune was at hand. The build-up to Round Ten had centred around Coach Josep Gombau’s handling of the local media, specifically the outburst directed at The Advertiser’s chief football correspondent Val Migliaccio regarding the footballing talent of Val’s son.

These distractions had for once deflected from the now common criticisms aimed at the Reds; the focus on patient possession of the football over a direct attacking threat, the fragility of the high line of Adelaide’s defence and an unwavering commitment to this tiki-taka ‘Barca-lite’ philosophy against all-comers. Saturday not only saw a change in result for the Reds, it also marked a more mobile, reactive and effective showing against one of the competition’s most accomplished sides.

The margins of success and failure in football can be here and gone in an instant, and this was certainly evident early in the game as the Mariners failed to capitalise on some ponderous defending from the Reds. Both Trent Sainsbury and Daniel McBreen missed the target with the goal beckoning within the first ten minutes after a set-piece situation had been ineffectively cleared.

For United the speed at which they were moving the ball through the middle third and into dangerous areas was a world away from the patient pace against the Victory only weeks ago, and this was to pay dividends as Bruce Djite, impressing with his strength, touch and defensive pressure, was able to bundle home a near-post cross in his only shot for the game.

The variation of Adelaide’s play and the speed with which they played a vertical ball after regaining possession showed the very best of United in full flight. Sergio Cirio, fluidly moving across the Reds front line, and Fabio Ferreira were given licence to drive at the Mariners back four and Ferreira found himself with two clear cut chances late in the half.

Central Coast, perhaps adjusting to a more proactive game-plan under Phil Moss, or maybe surging forward less restrained looking for an equaliser, were left short staffed at the rear. While Fabio Ferreira pulled his first shot from the inside-right channel past the outside of the post, his second, created from the lightening quick exploitation of space as Marcelo Carrusca and Steven Lustica poured forward, was smashed to goalkeeper Liam Reddy’s right, squirming underneath the gloveman and trickling over the line.

While United had perhaps been fortunate not to concede in the first period it was fair to say Eugene Galekovic in goal was barely called into action, and the two-nil scoreline reflected, for once, the clinical finishing of Adelaide. The reds have had a propensity to fade out of games this season and was excellently documented, but fear of this on Saturday was to be short-lived with a comical goal conceded by Liam Reddy shortly after the interval settling any remaining nerves for United.

No passage of play could be further from the ideal of ‘beautiful’ Barca-inspired football than the long punt forward which Reddy failed to shield out of play, Sergio Cirio nipping in to waltz into an empty net while the Away keeper remonstrated with all the officials he could find.┬áThat, and an awful miss from McBreen when he broke through one-on-one with Galekovic, seemed to curtail any real resistance from the Central Coast and Adelaide toyed with tiki-taka style possession late on.

The ‘Ole’ calls from the crowd certainly demonstrated the carnival atmosphere around Coopers Stadium, while Jeronimo, a half-time sub, added the icing on the cake with a precise far-post finish in the dying minutes of the game.

So United have returned to the winners list for only the second time this season. An emphatic four-nil scoreline will no doubt be used by the club to silence some critics, but the nature of the win does in fact lend some weight to the substance of their analysis. Adelaide were most comfortable in possession when the game was already won, and still gave up a number of chances due to the high positioning of their defensive block.

The Reds used a bustling target man in Bruce Djite as disruption and decoy at the tip of their frontline, while the pace of transition opened up room for Cirio, Ferreira and Jeronimo to attack directly from out wide. Gombau will be well pleased with the three points, but it would be a fallacy to describe this as validation of a tiki-taka team now starting to gel.

This weekend away against the manager-less Perth Glory United may pose a decision for Gombau between adhering to a philosophy which is yet to yield results, or move more permanently towards a positive but pragmatic approach.

Mathew Doolan

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