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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

How Hiroshi Ibusuki transformed into Adelaide United's "leading light"

One of the biggest shocks of the A-Leagues' inaugural Unite Round arguably happened at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, with Hiroshi Ibusuki's dazzling performance leading Adelaide United to victory over Sydney FC at their home ground. Front Page Football looks at how Carl Veart's recent tactical shake-up has increased the output of his Japanese striker.

Adelaide United striker Hiroshi Ibusuki was in unplayable form against Sydney FC. (Image: Courtney Pedlar)

Leading up to Round 8, after three consecutive losses, Adelaide United manager Carl Veart drew a line in the sand and shook up his tactical approach to galvanise his struggling side.

The Reds' clash against the Newcastle Jets saw Veart move from his favoured system with three midfielders, two wingers, and a striker, which aimed to stretch the field of play and deliver crosses from wide areas. He changed to a more compact formation with a double pivot at the base of the midfield, with two more advanced midfielders/wingers ahead of them, headlined by two forwards.

This system change saw Hiroshi Ibusuki restored to the Reds' starting lineup for the first time in four games. But instead of replacing Luka Jovanovic, the experienced striker partnered with his younger counterpart in Adelaide's final third.

The move proved successful on the day, with the Reds opening the scoring within 15 minutes and their two forwards combining. Jovanovic assisted Ibusuki's opener as Adelaide ended their winless run in front of a home crowd.

A loss to Melbourne Victory did not discourage Veart, who backed his new system in the following two weeks. The Reds drew against Wellington and Macarthur, with strike partners Ibusuki and Ben Halloran combining for three goals. But Adelaide could not consistently convert on their ball dominance in front of goals.

Despite not setting the world on fire since Veart's system change, the small sample size was enough proof that the Reds had enough quality to compete for a Finals Series spot.

The competition to secure a Finals Series berth is as heated as ever, which made Adelaide's trip to Sydney for the inaugural Unite Round even more crucial, with the Reds' recent improvement yet to be reflected on the table after another three-game winless run.

Adelaide United entered their match against Sydney FC with a similar system and a point to prove after being embarrassed by the Sky Blues at Hindmarsh Stadium by a humbling four-goal margin earlier in the season.

An early Sydney goal and the constant pressure on the ball applied by Ufuk Talay's side threatened to take the game away from Adelaide's grasp, who only avoided going two goals down due to a squandered Fabio Gomes chance.

Unlike their earlier encounter, Adelaide's maturity began showing, and the Reds stemmed the bleeding, with Veart's two-striker system paying dividends.

Zach Clough was afforded too much time in the middle of the park, and he effortlessly picked out Ben Halloran in the box. Halloran's proximity to Ibusuki meant an easy assist for the Japanese striker, whose goal meant he has now scored against every A-League Men opponent.

The strike partnership once again paid dividends when Halloran headed a ball into the box into Ibusuki's path, with the striker's footwork throwing the Sydney defence off before giving Adelaide the lead.

Ibusuki's presence in Adelaide's front line helped the Reds take shape in attack, with the striker bringing the ball down and linking play along with his goalscoring exploits. Meanwhile, Halloran pressed Sydney into mistakes while being present to receive Ibusuki's clever lay-offs.

The Sky Blues' insistence on a high defensive line proved their undoing when Ryan Tunnicliffe picked out an Ibusuki run down the left-hand side on the halfway line. Though running with the ball down the touchline and crossing for teammates is far from being in the lumbering striker's forte, Ibusuki delivered for Nestory Irankunda on a silver platter, who gave Adelaide an astonishing two-goal lead heading into halftime.



Ibusuki's final touch of the match saw him fittingly convert substitute Jovanovic's cross to complete his hat-trick with a trademark towering header over Rhyan Grant.

The Reds then proceeded to nearly throw away their three-goal advantage. But a 4-3 victory left Veart proud, primarily due to the manner of his side's previous loss to Sydney FC.

Adelaide's boss praised his striker after four direct goal involvements saw his side return to the winner's list. Veart pointed out that Ibusuki has been a leading player since the Round 8 system change, with the striker scoring five goals in as many games.

"I think since we have changed to the two up front, he’s been outstanding. The last month of his football, the goals he is getting, his link-up play. He’s been a leading light for us. I am very happy for him tonight to get that reward for the work he’s been doing the last month and a half."

While stating that the change of tactics probably helped Ibusuki rediscover his best form, Veart, who described his striker as a "very good professional", shared that his subdued early season form could have also been down to injuries he was happy to play through.

After praising Ibusuki, Veart also took the opportunity to acknowledge Halloran's recent return to form after he regained his spot in the line-up in a more central role than he is accustomed to.

"I thought he (Halloran) was outstanding, especially in that first half. Hiroshi got the goals, but Benny was the one that was doing the work to allow us to get into those dangerous areas, and his pressing tonight was very good as well. Ben was a little bit inconsistent earlier in the season, but the last couple of weeks, he’s been outstanding for us."

Adelaide United will not play this week due to the postponement of their clash with Western United. While the Reds may have relished the opportunity to build on a monumental win, a week off after a busy period may be a blessing in disguise.

Assuming Veart stays faithful to his newly adopted system, it remains to be seen how Adelaide improves on both ends of the field as the weeks go on and how the competition adapts to it.

The Reds' next opponent is one that Veart's side has had success against in Melbourne City, albeit against a manager in Aurelio Vidmar that Veart has yet to face in the A-League Men.

It remains to be seen whether Veart returns to the tried and tested system that has served him well during his time as Adelaide's manager, especially against Melbourne City, who it worked so well against back in Round 2. Or does he continue riding the wave and backing the system that, in Sydney, proved it could have a high ceiling with his current squad? Should the Reds stay true to what served them right on Saturday, a significant reason for it would be the rejuvenation of forwards such as Ibusuki and Halloran.

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