Adelaide United hosted Wellington Phoenix on Tuesday night in their Round of 32 FFA Cup clash. The match was played at Marden Sports Complex due to ongoing renovation works at United’s home ground, Coopers Stadium. A crowd of 2,804 was on hand to see United win 1-0, and ensuring their progression to the Round of 16.
United scored, what turned out to be the winner, in the 31st minute when Sergio Cirio tucked home after good build up work in the left channel, but the goal came against the run of play. The Phoenix dominated the first half but afforded the Spanish winger-cum-number ten space to take advantage to give United the lead.
Earlier Jeremy Brockie had gone close for the Phoenix with a dipping half volley that would have been one of the goals of the season had it been on target, and a header just over the bar from defender Michael Boxall giving the Reds trouble before the goal arrived.
The Phoenix began the second half as they did the first, dominating play but unable to take their chances. The Reds grew into each half and enjoyed spells of superiority in both stanzas, earning a goal in the first half and calming the game down during the second as they controlled the tempo.
But the Phoenix rallied late on to create several chances, only to be denied by a combination of committed defending, the woodwork, and a fantastic display from United goalkeeper Paul Izzo. The Reds survived injury time by the skin of their teeth, but that’s what knockout football is all about.
Whether central or wide, Cirio remains key for Adelaide
Sergio Cirio’s well taken goal reinforced just how key the Spaniard is for Adelaide, with a lovely first touch from an Awer Mabil pass taking him between two helpless Phoenix defenders, before slotting low past Glen Moss.
Cirio was playing in a less natural position as a number ten and he flourished, picking passes to United’s pacey wingers and controlling the attacking tempo in the absence of Marcelo Carrusca.
It looks set to be a big season for the 29 year old as he enters his second season in the A-League. After scoring eight goals last campaign he will be hoping to crack double figures this time around as the team looks to replace the goals of departed Jeronimo Neumann. A clever and also instinctive player, he is fast becoming a favourite of the United faithful.
Doyle looks a good addition to the Phoenix defence
Wellington coach Ernie Merrick said before the Football United tournament in New Zealand that Thomas Doyle needed to improve to earn a contract, and he certainly has done. The left-back showed great positioning and strength to keep Adelaide’s talented and pacey Bruce Kamau quiet for much of the game.
United’s best work came down their left, and this was in large part to Doyle’s solidity on the flank. His performances will have surely increased his worth in Merrick’s eyes and could well be a key player for the Phoenix in the season ahead. Merrick was a big fan of Doyle’s showing and said he had come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks.
“He was very impressive. He just keeps getting better. He’s just stepped straight in, he’s been a product of our school of excellence over the last two years and he’s got that spot cemented,“ the Phoenix coach said after the match.
Izzo proves an adequate replacement in goal
Eugene Galekovic’s absence through All Stars selection gave Paul Izzo the chance to show why he’s so rated and has represented the Young Socceroos on numerous occasions. Izzo had a few shaky moments in the first half, predominantly with his feet, but he recovered well to make some huge saves at key moments in the second half.
Izzo produced stops that showcased his full range of talents, including sharp reflexes, strong hands and fearlessness to close down his opponent. His save in injury time from former United player Nathan Burns was crucial and earned a solid round of applause from the crowd, before he made two more critical interventions.
The ball rebounded from the post and fell to Burns who struck first time, but Izzo had narrowed the angle bravely and there was no past the in-form United keeper.
It remains to be seen whether Izzo’s strong showing will be rewarded with a start in the FFA Cup Round of 16 or whether coach Josep Gombau will reinstate Galekovic for the match, but coach on the night Michael Valkanis said that either way, the United staff were confident their goalkeeper would perform well.
“I know that he (Gombau) has got confidence in every player in the squad. Don’t forget we’ve got one of the best goalkeepers in Australia in Eugene Galekovic and that’s always going to be tough for our younger goalkeepers but they’ve got a lot to learn from such a good goalkeeper,” Valkanis said when asked about whether Izzo could start in the next round.
“I think he did in the second half, especially towards the end where we were put under a lot of pressure. In the end he pulled off I think two very good saves. He’s a young boy and he’s got a huge future ahead of him,” Valkanis went on to say about Izzo’s performance.
United progress to the Round of 16 with their victory and will find out their fate when the draw is held on August 21st.