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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

How did Adelaide United's young charges fare against original rivals Melbourne Victory?

After a dream start to the A-League Men season, which saw them score nine goals while conceding none against both of last year’s Grand Finalists, Carl Veart’s Adelaide United faced the test of a rejuvenated Melbourne Victory side away from home on Saturday. Front Page Football examines how Veart’s trust in his young players produced mixed results at AAMI Park.

Jonny Yull was one youngster Carl Veart entrusted against Melbourne Victory. (Melbourne Victory)

Entering halftime of the first Original Rivalry of the 2023/24 A-League Men season, Adelaide United headed down the tunnel with their exploits against the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City feeling like only a distant memory. Carl Veart's side entered the break luckily only one goal down against a confident Melbourne Victory outfit playing in front of a raucous home crowd.

Adelaide's inability to grasp any control in midfield from the outset saw wunderkind Nestory Irankunda be largely anonymous in the first half. But crucially, it allowed Tony Popovic's side to dictate the game, which spelled trouble for another Reds youngster.

Right back Panashe Madanha, a winger by nature, was targeted by Victory's Nishan Vellupillay. Once the home side identified the frailties in the fullback's defensive game, along with the lack of support he received from his wingers, they pounced.

Madanha was caught on the ball several times. Eventually, a cutback from the opposite side saw the defender lose Bruno Fornaroli in the box. Victory's number 10 made no mistake in punishing the lapse in concentration to open the scoring.

Only Joe Gauci's brilliance in the Adelaide United goal kept the visitors alive heading into the interval. Veart's only change of personnel at the break was a straight swap at right back, with Madanha, on a yellow card and off the back of a shaky half, not risked any further, as 18-year-old Giuseppe Bovalina replaced him in Adelaide's backline.

As many well-travelled Reds fans can attest, strong Adelaide United sides have travelled to Melbourne for Original Rivalry clashes and have left red-faced. Veart doubling down in trusting his young players after a half where his side could have been down several goals may have had even the most optimistic fans worried. But his young players responded to the challenge.

The AAMI Park atmosphere did not cease; the Victory lineup did not change. But the Reds looked a lot more composed after the interval. Under 15 minutes into the second half, a Victory foul broke down a promising Adelaide United attack. Zach Clough's set-piece delivery found Hiroshi Ibusuki, who brought his side level when they had no right to still be in the match.

Luck was on Adelaide's side when Victory was reduced to 10 men, and Veart's actions here were undoubtedly telling. Over 10 minutes following Roderick Miranda's red card, in a significant rivalry match away from home and with the game on the line, Veart doubled down on his approach.

The Reds withdrew some of their most experienced campaigners in Ben Halloran, Isaias, and Ibusuki. The experienced Ryan Tunnicliffe was brought on alongside the young pair of Bernardo and Musa Toure, leaving the Reds with seven players aged 23 or under on the field to take on a Victory side undermanned but far from toothless.

Veart's trust in youth worked to an extent in the second half, with Gauci remaining steadfast in goal and Bovalina looking much more assured than Madanha in his defensive duties while providing an offensive outlet for a side chasing the game.

Tunnicliffe's introduction, combined with the numerical advantage, gave Jonny Yull the ability to have a more significant influence on the game, and his play benefited the players around him. Bernardo was unfortunate not to add another goal contribution to his season's tally, and Toure proved a handful for his markers when the Reds ventured forward.

Despite a much more positive second-half showing and Adelaide's young charges growing into the game, the Reds required more composure and polish to trouble Paul Izzo in the Victory goal consistently.

The game had settled into a stalemate, with Alex Popovic combining with experienced defensive partner Nick Ansell for yet another promising showing, on and off the ball.

Veart has stated that playing young players is always a learning process, and that sentiment proved true with Madanha in the first half. But Irankunda's learning curve is what made headlines to end the game.

The young winger stole the show in Adelaide the previous week, opening the scoring with a stunning free-kick. But it was not his night in Round 3. Irankunda's match started quietly, with the teenager ending the first half by leaving Ibusuki frustrated at not delivering the ball into the box for him, instead being dispossessed.

Early in the second half, Irankunda's speed led to Miranda fouling the winger, breaking down a counterattack, and being given his marching orders for a second bookable offence. Irate, having seen their captain sent off and their team down to ten, Victory supporters began targeting Irankunda with boos whenever he approached the ball. The winger was now clearly playing with a chip on his shoulder, more intent than ever to help his side win.

As the game wore on, he became more dangerous, and the Victory players, like their fans in the stands, treated him accordingly, increasing their physicality on the teenager, who was first booked for expressing his feelings in an overly physical manner.

The frustration boiled over in the dying embers of the game when Irankunda was seemingly fouled multiple times in a challenge with Chris Ikonomidis. Neither the referee nor the linesman spotted an infringement. Furious at the non-call, an already booked Irankunda made his feelings clear in a manner referee Alex King felt warranted a second yellow card.



Irankunda was not done arguing his case, and the involvement of Connor Chapman, who admitted to riling up the teenager afterwards, certainly did not improve the situation. The winger had to be comforted by multiple people as he made his way down the tunnel, including Victory manager Tony Popovic, with the match eventually ending as a fascinating draw.

Admittedly, Veart left the match slightly disappointed his team did not take advantage of a 10-man Victory side. But after the first half to forget, the result was probably fair. One thing he would have learned about his young side is that it has spirit and refuses to lie down.

Original Rivalry clashes are historically challenging for any side visiting to win, let alone a younger-than-usual one like Veart's, which had multiple players play vital roles in a fixture of this magnitude for the first time. Each player on the pitch was tested physically and mentally, and regardless of how the night went, it is a valuable lesson for the young Reds contingent about how a tough away trip against the club's main rival can look like on the pitch.

Throughout the club's history, Adelaide United sides have learned such lessons in much more painful ways, so the Reds should be satisfied with the result. The appropriate action following this result is to support the young players who had discouraging experiences while also continuing to foster a positive learning environment for the rest to continue to grow as footballers in the coming months. More challenges are sure to present themselves.

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