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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Left red-faced: Adversity knocked on Adelaide United's door and no one answered

On Saturday night, a re-energised Sydney FC brutally exposed Adelaide United's Achilles' heel. Carl Veart now enters the international break with the unenviable task of pondering how to bridge the gap between his side's best and worst.

Adelaide United had no retort to Sydney FC's intense first half on Saturday night. (Ken Carter)

The one factor consistent with all young teams is inconsistency, and Adelaide United are no different. Carl Veart's men had a dream start to the campaign, handily defeating both of last season's Grand Finalists, before hitting a stumbling block in Melbourne, escaping with a point against Melbourne Victory.

Be it Joe Lolley's opener after four minutes or Joe Gauci's wardrobe malfunction, which saw him having to change shirt due to a kit clash with the opposition, right after collecting the ball from the back of his net, it was clear from the early stages against Sydney FC that it was not going to be Adelaide United's night.

Adelaide's young contingent is earning opportunities because of their undoubted talent. But the reality is, with an approach like Adelaide's, there are natural ups and downs for players understanding the game and adapting to life as professional athletes early in their careers.

Thus, the next generation of Reds needs the support of their experienced teammates. Unfortunately for Adelaide, should any players have needed a boost of confidence after the reality check a bruising Original Rivalry provided, Joe Lolley ensured they would not receive it, with two experienced Reds involved in failing to stop him.

"Everyone knows that Sydney's wingers like to cut in and shoot," Veart said post-game.

When this action occurred for the first time, four minutes into the match, Ryan Kitto and Ryan Tunnicliffe were too slow to react to Lolley's signature move, and it left Gauci helpless as the visitors recorded their first goal of the season in its fourth round.

Lolley added to his tally 10 minutes later, and by the end of the half, Jaiden Kucharski had also recorded a brace on his starting A-League Men debut, putting the game well beyond Adelaide's reach.

Veart lamented his side's slow start, admitting it played into Sydney's hands.

"We knew Sydney would come out hard in the first 15-20 minutes, and we just didn’t deal with it. We were second to everything, very naive in the way we played, and we got punished," he said.

"We said we didn’t want to give them any opportunities in that first 15 minutes, and we actually played into their hands. It was game over after that."

As the Reds take stock of a mixed start to the new season, Veart will undoubtedly be concerned, seeing that when it all went wrong for Adelaide, his side, led by their experienced players, collectively lowered their colours.

Despite stating he could have hauled off anyone at the break, Veart's triple substitution was a statement in itself, with the experienced trio of Tunnicliffe, Ben Halloran, and Hiroshi Ibusuki replaced by youngsters in Luke Duzel, Musa Toure, and Luka Jovanovic.

Veart quickly took the attention away from his senior players, highlighting that it was a collective effort and, thus, a collective failure on a night to forget.

"It is not just the senior players; it's the whole team: the players, the coaches. It's about staying strong together and working together. Everyone knows what is required; tonight, there were too many players that mirrored each other; they weren't performing, and sort of went into their shell because sometimes that happens," he said.

The reality is such results are a part of the education of his young charges. There will be tough nights, and that is where the experienced elements within the squad have to take responsibility. Craig Goodwin would be the man for this job in previous years. But after his exit, that role of a leader by example is yet to be consistently filled.

Veart characterised a post-match question on whether his side missed Nestory Irankunda as "silly" because taking stock, he is a 17-year-old winger, and without context, his premise is probably correct. The reality for the Reds is that the youngster has been heavily relied on for his brilliance, as have other young players for their qualities. While that is far from a negative, the reality is that players in the formative stage of their careers need to be supported through their highs and lows instead of being leaned on to grind out results every week.



The Reds responded in the second half with a much more positive showing, but there is not much anyone can analyse from a period one team entered already four goals down. As Veart admitted, the game was lost after half an hour.

When the game was there to be won, Adelaide's veterans were powerless to stop the avalanche and could not compose their young teammates, with neither words nor actions, as they never settled in the first 45 minutes. The difference was stark on the night, with Sydney FC's veterans building the foundations early, encouraging players like Jake Girdwood-Reich, Zac De Jesus, and Kucharski to flourish and contribute heavily to Adelaide's demise.

The international break arrives at an excellent time for Adelaide United, who must now make sense of what went wrong against Sydney while also building on the positives they can take away from the first few weeks. Veart's job is to find the right balance between his young and experienced charges.

More importantly, he must ensure his leadership group can support their younger teammates on the pitch when things are not rosy. Otherwise, a negative result can quickly snowball into something more sinister. A potential learning curve is not the issue for Adelaide's young charges. But to learn, you require effective teachers.

On Saturday night, when the going got tough, no Adelaide United player responded. It will not be the last time Adelaide encounters a challenging situation. But should the Reds make something of their season, they must find contributors that can stand up in adversity and help the inexperienced players through poor form and doubt, both natural in the developmental stages of a professional footballer's career.

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