Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A-League Preliminary Final round-up

Adelaide United 1 v Newcastle Jets 1 after et (AU 4-3 on penalties)

GOING into this game, one of the most pertinent questions was whether Adelaide had shaken off the disappointment of the late late major semi loss, particularly in light of their poor finals record. John Kosmina had been on the record as saying that Robinson's late winner would only fuel the desire for his men, so the early signs would be telling.

As for the visiting Jets, who arrived with momentum, the question was whether they might be able to take advantage of any United vulnerability. One sensed an upbeat start from the visitors might be the best way of testing Adelaide's mental state.

But after a 10 minute period of shadow-punching, where Newcastle dominated possession but created little, it was the hosts who started asking the questions.

Instead of applying the heat from the beginning, the Jets arrived seemingly content to contain. As much could be told in the formation, with Bridge withdrawn to an attacking role from central midfield, behind the front two of Rodriguez and Griffiths.

Perhaps Gary van Egmond's logic was that his team's superior fitness (he had been on the record claiming it and the evidence this season certainly backed him up) would get his team home. Contain early and finish strongly seemed to be the plan.

Whether it was the Jets conservative start or the Adelaide's desire to make up for last week, United soon wrestled the initiative by pressing the Jets high, never allowing Okon to build any passing momentum from the back. The Jets appeared content to defend around their 18 yard box and had plenty of luck in surviving the first period unscathed.

The game's most surprising starter was referee Matthew Breeze, but after last Friday's shocker in the minor semi, here he got his first major call right, ruling Fernando had been upended outside the box by Thompson. What came later wasn't so good from Breeze, Adelaide feeling they had a penalty for a push on Diego while Kemp was later rubbed out of the grand final despite what appeared a clean tackle.

With Fernando and Veart providing a physical threat through the middle, Burns ducking in form the left and Dodd doing some neat work on Thompson, it was the hosts calling the shots, moving the Jets back four around and creating some decent openings.

Newcastle's most productive outlet looked down the right, where Griffiths, despite picking up another silly yellow (this one ruling him out of a potential grand final) was getting some change out of Kemp. But overall the Jets were struggling to impose their fluent passing game.

The start of the second period was a complete contrast. Almost as if they had flicked on the switch at the break, Newcastle upped the tempo, Bridge taking two pot-shots within minutes. Van Egmond, already known to have adopted his 'leadership group' idea from the Paul Roos school of coaching, was seemingly using another Roos concept; tempo football. All up it spelt danger signs for Adelaide.

But the hosts survived and reacted well, Veart getting on the end of a nice build-up involving Alagich, Burns and Fernando, finding a couple of metres on marker Kohler and placing it into the corner.

Surely United wouldn't make the same mistake of last week of trying to sit on their lead, surely not against this mob? They did, and sure enough they were punished, Carle doing the business on Alagich down one flank before Coveny found Valkanis and Kemp day-dreaming in the middle.
Still 15 minutes left and with the Jets flooding home and Adelaide seemingly tiring, there appeared only one winner. Van Egmond, it seemed, had got it right again. But Beltrame had other ideas. The keeper, who came into the side only because of the stupidity of Bajic in round 15, has excelled in the past couple of months, especially in racing off his line to narrow the angle in a one on one situations. It was evidenced by his work in denying Carle late on.

Later, in extra time, he raced off his line again to block Bridge after the twinkle-toed Jets striker was played in behind by a sumptuous Carle reverse flick. If it wasn't Beltrame, it was the wonderful defensive work of Costanzo providing United with a life-line, which substitute Djite tried to take advantage of. At times foraging alone up front, he was proving a menace and might have won it before it went into extra time had Covic not thrust out a right foot.

At the change of ends in extra time, Adelaide, with Kemp, Diego and Dodd seemingly struggling, looked gone. But Dodd and Costanzo were proving inspirational, the former switched to the left and applying plenty of pressure on Durante, the latter in supreme form at the back. Adelaide had done enough to survive and take it to penalties, and might even had snatched the win after Dodd went on a mazy run late on.

This was a wonderful contest, a thriller, and while Newcastle probably shaded it on chances created, Adelaide were mighty and resilient. Spurred on by the home Gate, and with Beltrame in the zone, it was United's turn.

Now they go to Melbourne having shaken off the monkey. While Kosmina's didn't admit it before the game, his and his team's reaction after Muslaik's spot-kick was saved told as much of relief as anything else. Such a pity he spoiled an otherwise wonderful evening by giving Breeze a spray.

Some of the other talking points

Disappointing turn-up; perhaps it was the hike in ticket prices or the disppointment of not having won at home in a finals match for some time, but the crowd of under 14,000 was low. Those that decided against going missed out on a cracker.

Kemp misses; there always seems to be one hard-luck story come grand final day. This time the unlucky man is Matthew Kemp. His tackle was clean so there is plenty of sympathy. It now causes a bit of a headache for Kosmina who has to decide whether to go with Goulding or Van Dommele, or possibly Owens, in which case he could switch Alagich to the left and play Owens on the right. Another option, less likely after it back-fired at Gosford in round 14, is the use of Valkanis on the left and Rees in the middle.

Save of the week; anything produced by Beltrame, whether it was the two one on one stops to deny Carle and Bridge in general play or the two saves to left during the shoot-out. Either way, his work over the past two months has been outstanding.

Goal of the week; while it involved an air-swing from Fernando in the build up, Adelaide's goal was neat. Alagich drove infield from the right, squared it up to Fernando, who tried to flick it forward. He missed and it rolled out to the left for Burns to flick it forward into the path of Fernando who had continued his run. Beating Okon to the aerial ball, he played a first time header across the 18 yard box, from right to left, where Veart had found some space on Kohler. It was awkward, but the veteran fashioned a shot, keeping it low.

Best of the week; Beltrame, Costanzo, Valkanis, Aloisi, Dodd, Veart, Djite, Carle, Musalik, Brown and Griffiths.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Colo Trifti said...

I thought Carle was below par. Durante played his best game in a while!

Wed. Feb. 14, 11:09:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous george said...

adelaide will need to recharge their batteries for next week...they looked very 'flat' and seemed to run out of petrol in extra time.
melbourne to win in extra time.

Wed. Feb. 14, 12:47:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Sam said...

Looking forward to thid week's GF. I hope the final is decided by the players and not decided by the referee!

Thu. Feb. 15, 01:52:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks for the comments all...

Sam, certianly echo those sentiments, but I do think at times the players could do more to help the ref, if you know what I mean...

Don't think it's been made public but assume that Shiled gets the gig. Lets hope he goes unnoticed.

George, I'm with you in thinking Melbourne might win it, but I'm gonna go out a limb and say they'll do it 3 zip in normal time, especially if they bag an early one and relax.

Fri. Feb. 16, 09:18:00 am AEDT  

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