What We Learnt – Adelaide United 2-1 Wellington Phoenix

Adelaide United defeated Wellington Phoenix 2-1 on Saturday afternoon courtesy of a winner deep into second half stoppage time.

Coopers Stadium witnessed an end to end contest in the first half, with Roly Bonevacia opening the scoring in the 15th minute following an incisive Phoenix counter attack. The hosts hit back in the 37th when a relatively unmarked Nigel Boogaard headed home Craig Goodwin’s corner to level the scores.

The Reds huffed and puffed in the second half but had to wait until the dying seconds of the match to find what proved to be the winner, with Sergio Cirio continuing his goalscoring exploits and tucking home following a set piece. It was a controversial goal after referee Strebre Delovski awarded a less than clear freekick to the Reds, which brought about the goal.

The dramatic win sees Adelaide maintain their impressive unbeaten home record which stretches to fifteen matches without tasting defeat at Coopers Stadium. Up next for the Reds is a trip to Gosford to face the Central Coast Mariners, while the Phoenix will need to rebound after this crushing loss when they travel to Perth to take on the Glory.

Bonevacia bossing things

Roly Bonevacia scored the game’s opening goal in the 15th minute when he sidefooted high into the roof of the net after a cutback from Roy Krishna, and put in an all round impressive display. The Dutch born midfielder appears to have found his niche in recent weeks for the Phoenix, with a tactical shift from coach Ernie Merrick getting the best out of his new signing.

Bonevacia completed all of his passes in the final third and won all of his tackles in a display that energised Wellington’s attack. The former Ajax midfielder also helped to close down and pressure the Reds as they looked to play out of defence.

Late winner cures all ills. Or does it?

Taking until the 94th minute to secure their win, Adelaide laboured at times as they attempted to break down a stubborn and resolute Phoenix defence. After failing to score last Friday night against Sydney FC despite a host of chances, there was a sense from the 9,726 strong crowd it would once again be a frustrating ending to a match where the home side had been dominant.

But all changed in the 94th minute when Sergio Cirio prodded past Phoenix keeper Glen Moss to snatch a valuable three points for Adelaide and send an unlucky Wellington side away without a point.

“I think it’s very important, the goal, but I think we deserved to win this game because from the first minute we went to attack, we want to win,” Cirio said immediately after the final whistle.

“We play many games the last two weeks and I think in the end the team was a little bit tired but with heart we get the game.”

Djite’s absence being felt

The absence of striker Bruce Djite through injury is beginning to tell with United often lacking the ability to play through the middle of the Phoenix, something evident by their two goals coming through set pieces rather than open play.

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Djite’s replacement, Pablo Sánchez acquitted himself well during the Reds’ FFA Cup semi final win midweek but he struggled to impose himself for large periods of the match. The Spaniard spent the majority of last season in the Spanish second division on the right flank and his lack of physicality has been shown up when deployed through the middle. A strong Phoenix centre half partnership of Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund subdued the 31 year old.

Adelaide carried such little physical threat that in the 80th minute Sánchez was brought off and replaced by defender Dylan McGowan. This wasn’t a tactical change but a like-for-like swap as McGowan took Sánchez’s place in the centre of the United attack.

It proved to be a masterstroke from Adelaide coach Josep Gombau as McGowan won the header that led to Cirio’s sensational winner, but it also revealed a lack of central striking options in Gombau’s squad, something the Reds fans have been concerned about since the start of the season.

“We don’t have a striker now with Djite’s injury, and it’s [putting a defender up front] something that in the last minutes we did at Barcelona a lot,” Gombau said in the post match press conference.

Gombau also reinforced his belief in the concept by mentioning the name of José Ramón Alexanko, who scored 26 goals in 274 appearances for Barcelona under Johan Cruyff, an impressive record for a player who was nominally a central defender.

“A central defender is normally good in the air, good heading, and in the last minutes if you are drawing or losing you can cross balls.”