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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

The redemption stories from Adelaide United's season-opening victory

Adelaide United got off to a dream start in their 2023/24 A-League Men's season, securing an impressive 3-0 victory over reigning champions the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night. At the core of this triumph was a group of Reds who showed glimpses of overcoming the challenges that plagued them over the past year.

Nick Ansell is one player who put a disappointing 2022/23 campaign behind him to star in Adelaide United's season opener. (Ken Carter)

There was much for fans to celebrate from Adelaide United’s 2022/23 A-League Men season. The Reds reached the competition's Semi-Final stage for a third consecutive season while also continuing to highlight the talent of several promising young South Australian players. Captain Craig Goodwin's outstanding performances led to a Johnny Warren Medal, being recognised as the season's best player.

The ultimate undoing of a relatively successful campaign was the number of goals Adelaide conceded. Despite securing a third-place finish in the regular season, Carl Veart's side conceded a staggering 46 goals, mirroring the defensive lapses of Guillermo Amor's Reds during their unsuccessful title defence, which culminated in them finishing a mere point ahead of cellar-dwellers the Newcastle Jets in 2016/17.

In the season opener against the Mariners at Coopers Stadium, two defenders, Nick Ansell and Alex Popovic, who encountered their challenges last season, started at the heart of the Adelaide backline. Both Ansell and Popovic may be accomplished defenders but grappled with injuries and a loss of confidence, respectively, during the previous campaign.

Ansell entered his third season in Adelaide on Friday night. But it was only his tenth league appearance for the club after rupturing his Achilles early in the 2021/22 season, before being plagued with multiple setbacks the following campaign. He partnered with Alex Popovic to keep a clean sheet, also notably sealing his side’s three-goal victory with a late header, his first goal as an Adelaide United player.

Veart was overjoyed with the experienced defender’s performance, sharing his delight in seeing Ansell overcome his difficulties.

“He’s just had a great pre-season, and you saw tonight, even last season when he played, he just made us a lot stronger in the back, and that’s why he played again tonight. He is a true defender,” Veart shared post-game.

“He was excellent, and I’m so glad for him and his family that he has got through those tough times, hopefully now, and this is a big leap for him, a huge season.”

Alongside Ansell, young central defender Popovic shone after a challenging 2022/23 campaign. An injury to Ansell during his first year at the club inadvertently helped open the door for Popovic’s promotion to the first team, where he played ten games. But his second year at the club saw his form dip in a side that could not keep the ball out of their goal.

Popovic spent a lengthy spell on the bench in 2022/23, with Ben Warland, Lachlan Barr, and, when fit, Ansell receiving opportunities in the centre of defence. The off-season benefited Popovic, who looked composed on the ball and in defence, something Veart highlighted.

“Young players, at times, have some doubt that can come into their mindset, and we give them belief, we believe in them, we trust them, and it is about them having that belief in themselves that at times can go missing. Last year, it did for Popa, at times, but he’ll take great moments from tonight because he defended very well."

“He is still a young central defender learning his game, and we will keep working with him. We are very fortunate that we have Mark Milligan, who is probably one of the best defensive players that have played for this country for a long time, that is helping these boys with their defensive duties.”

Popovic was assured in defence for Adelaide United against the Central Coast Mariners. (Ken Carter)

In recent seasons, Adelaide has not struggled with their offensive output. However, following the unforeseen departure of Goodwin to the Saudi Arabian side, Al Wehda, an area that was once a strength, suddenly turned into uncertainty. Adelaide could not replace Goodwin before the season resumed, and the club has confirmed it will re-evaluate the situation in January, with some familiar faces being allowed to match the contributions of the Socceroo.

Like Ansell, young Reds winger Bernardo faced injury problems last season and did not feature in any league matches. Veart afforded him 16 minutes against the Mariners, where he was able to give his audition concerning the team effort of replacing Goodwin.

A big part of Goodwin’s game is his set-piece delivery. After Zach Clough converted a penalty to double his side’s lead, Bernardo took charge of a wide free kick on the edge of the box, won by teammate Musa Toure, who missed a big part of 2023 due to injury. Bernardo expertly placed the ball in a perfect area, picking out Ansell to complete the scoring for the Reds.

Ben Halloran is the one experienced player who has to step up in the final third this season, having only managed a single goal in 2022/23 after returning to South Australia from FC Seoul. The winger has Veart’s trust, being in the team's leadership group, and showed he is prepared to contribute to filling the void left by Goodwin with the opening goal against Central Coast, an impressive finish off the crossbar.



Veart attributes Halloran's underwhelming previous campaign to the limited playing time he experienced in South Korea and remains optimistic the winger can return to the lofty standards he previously demonstrated in a Reds shirt.

“When you have that much time out of the game, sometimes it can take you a while to get back to [the] level that you expect from yourself, and that’s what I think happened last year. Hopefully, we can get him (Halloran) back now to what it was like before he left because he’s a very dangerous player. We know what his qualities are with his speed and technical ability, and it was great to see that he got a goal tonight because I think he only got the one goal last season, so it’s a great start for him,” Veart said on Halloran.

Adelaide United's resounding victory on the season's opening night primarily centred on the club's investment in nurturing its most promising young talents. However, Veart would also undoubtedly be overjoyed by the notable contributions made by some of his players who, for one reason or another, faced difficulties making an impact during the previous campaign.

With one of the youngest squads in the league at his disposal, Veart will inevitably require all hands on board to sustain the momentum of this season and achieve the goal of returning the Reds to the Finals Series. While Round 1 against the champions could not have gone any better, the Reds face a challenge from the other 2022/23 Grand Finalists, Melbourne City, in their Round 2 clash in Adelaide next Sunday.

Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!


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