Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Melbourne 1-0 Adelaide

The dagger through Adelaide's hearts

There were question marks over Adelaide's performance on the weekend, but the Reds did what was necessary to get across the line against Sydney, an increasingly dysfunctional rabble lurching through their worst ever season. Given the resilience that Adelaide have shown this season, and their ability to step up in big matches, I thought that they would be able to step up a notch in their next game, the midweek catchup match against Melbourne Victory.

Melbourne are a very different team to Sydney, though. Facing up to their nemeses in front of 27,000 in the Tardistan National Stadium was always going to be a tough ask for Adelaide. It's no secret that Melbourne have had the wood on Adelaide since that fateful Grand Final thumping; playing them gives our boys the heebie jeebies at the best of times. This season, despite leading the league going into this game, United had already lost twice to the Tards.

And last night was no different. Adelaide started the game off looking sluggish, disjointed and afraid to meaningfully commit to attacking. And, of course, Melbourne took advantage, launching waves of attack into the Reds' half. Adelaide responded negatively, sitting deep in defence to try and nullify the always-dangerous Allsopp and Thompson and attempting to man-mark Hernandez out of the game. The porky Costa Rican is way too clever for that - he still managed to play some great passes and got past his man with nice tight ball control on occasion. Having Reid trying to mark (and kick) Hernandez out of the game effectively left Adelaide short of attacking options in midfield - we are severely missing the positional sense, poise and vision of Diego Walsh. Reid, Barbiero, Sarkies - none of them are playmakers in the same class.

At the break we were told that Viddie put a rocket up them at half time. To no avail, really, because the team came out playing the same dross that was served up in the first half. Bad touches, bad passes, players misreading each other, long balls to an isolated Cristiano (how many times do we have to say it?) But, of course, this is only half the story. Melbourne were very. very good. Their fullbacks (especially Kemp) had the out-of-sorts Cassio and Dodd in their pockets all game. Vargas and Muscat owned the backline. The midfield were full of endeavour - Celeski had a great game - and linked well with the forward line.

So, inevitably, Melbourne got a goal. An unmarked Ward with a confident header off an outswinging Hernandez corner. And, inevitably, Adelaide started playing football, finally finding a bit of attacking spark, but their play was in the end far too predictable for such a well-organised defence. Vidmar may have taken too negative an approach to formation and tactics, but the Reds have played well in the past with a very similar-looking lineup. More than anything, the players just looked mentally and physically shagged, not at all up to the challenge of taking on their biggest rivals in a match that may end up determining this year's Premiers. Exceptions to this were Galekovic and Ognenovski, both of whom had fantastic games. And both of whom will most likely not be at the club next season. Dang.

So, where to now? Melbourne are looking sharp and full of confidence; to get back to the top of the table and clinch the Premiership and ACL spot Adelaide will really need to make the most of their game in hand. Next up - Newcastle at Hindmarsh, which should really be points in the bag but I'm not really all that confident going by last night's showing. Buck up, lads.

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