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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Broken, brilliant, and baffling: The story of another Adelaide United collapse

Despite scoring three goals, a substandard performance saw Adelaide United again fall short against Macarthur FC in Campbelltown last night. Front Page Football reflects on a thrilling encounter and what it means for Carl Veart's side moving forward.

Ulises Dávila and Macarthur took advantage of Adelaide United's frailties to record a 4-3 comeback victory against the Reds. (Isuzu UTE A-League Twitter)


Halftime arrived at Campbelltown Stadium, and Adelaide United somehow found themselves level with Macarthur on the scoreboard. Ironically, a 2-2 result at the break signified Adelaide's best-ever half of football in Macarthur, albeit that being a shallow bar after their previous three visits culminated in 10 goals conceded and only one goal scored across three comprehensive defeats.


Adelaide’s inability to effectively play out from the back against Macarthur from the outset was compounded by Valère Germain glancing home a Clayton Lewis free kick to give the Bulls a deserved lead after only eight minutes.


A moment of individual brilliance by Nestory Irankunda was enough to bring the Reds level, with the soon-to-be Bayern Munich winger taking the space he was afforded and placing the ball on a silver platter for Zach Clough to finish.


Carl Veart’s frustration remained evident and audible despite his side equalising. The Bulls regained their lead through a turnover in Adelaide's midfield, combined with the Reds' severely disjointed backline, which allowed Ulises Dávila the space to produce a stunning through ball, which was rewarded with the finish it deserved from advancing teammate Matt Millar.

Adelaide’s lack of control in midfield has been its undoing on multiple occasions in Campbelltown, and it proved to be once again detrimental in the first half of their fourth visit to Sydney’s South West.


Unlike previous visits, the Reds found a reprieve heading into the break as Ryan Kitto’s cross found Giuseppe Bovalina, who found the back of the net for the first time in his A-League Men career, with a run and finish he made a habit of doing at NPL level.


His team may have been level, but Veart was displeased with how it operated and proceeded to substitute the experienced Isaias at the interval. In possession, the Reds looked like a shell of themselves. As Adelaide's midfield possession and retention orchestrator, Isaias shoulders much of the responsibility for how Adelaide operates in good and bad periods.


The midfielder's multiple uncharacteristic turnovers and inability to present for his centre-backs in build-up exacerbated Adelaide’s issues in possession during the first stanza.

Luke Duzel replaced his experienced counterpart in Adelaide's engine room, and the Reds made a much more promising start to the second half. They briefly re-discovered the aggression and confidence in possession that made them a tough side to play in the early days of season 2023/24.


An incisive passage of play early in the second half saw Kitto tee up Ben Halloran, who made no mistake finding Clough, with the Englishman recording his brace for the Reds. Somehow, despite being second-best for most of the game, the Reds had led through three moments of brilliance.


Unfortunately for Veart’s men, that was the last positive from the game.


As the second half wore on, they began to sit back, akin to the previous week against Western United, and invited the shaken Bulls to retake the ascendency.


A team boasting Macarthur's attacking quality would always accept an invitation. But heading into the final ten minutes, a baffling decision during an attacking set piece saw the Reds invite Macarthur to do what they do best and hit them on the counterattack.


In the 82nd minute, the Reds were caught in transition, with many Adelaide players astonishingly committing to an attacking set piece despite being ahead with less than ten minutes to play, as Jake Hollman took advantage of a loose ball in the box to slot home an equaliser.


Only two minutes later, Dávila took advantage of Adelaide’s static defending at a set piece to give his side the lead, sealing victory in a seven-goal thriller.


Four minutes of madness saw Adelaide go full circle from defending a lead to chasing it again, which begs the question, how did the Reds allow the game to get to that point? Fingers can be pointed at the inexperience of some players on the pitch, but the tempo of the game since Adelaide gained the advantage led to this eventuality.
 

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Questions also have to be asked about how the home side, who had been in Thailand only days earlier for the AFC Cup, albeit having rested players but still with many appearing in both games, finished much stronger than the side with an eight-day break from its last competitive fixture.


Veart’s comments post-game reflected his disappointment, with the manager believing Adelaide was “poor from the first whistle to the last” and that he did not think his side was “ever in the game.”


They may be strong comments from a coach whose side just scored three goals away from home. But given the way Adelaide began the match and their approach after taking the lead, which led to surrendering it, you can see Veart's point.


However, as the leader of a young squad, it is his responsibility to ensure his more senior players are executing the game plan outlined and they can support their inexperienced teammates through the ups and downs of an arduous season.


Regardless of Veart’s feelings concerning his side’s performance, it cannot be ignored that Adelaide led the game for approximately half an hour and headed into the last eight minutes of the match in front. What happened after they took this lead was the antithesis of responsible game management, and in a league as fiercely competitive as the A-League Men, you will pay for such missteps.


The gap between Adelaide United's best and worst is probably as wide as any team in the competition. Last night, we saw both sides of this chasm, with the Reds starting and ending the game abjectly yet scoring three well-worked goals and leading a game away from home for a significant period.

Should Adelaide achieve its aims for season 2023/24, Veart and his side must narrow the gap between their two extremes to avoid falling into the abyss in between, as they did in Campbelltown for the fourth time in as many visits.


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