Monday, February 12, 2007


Preliminary Review

It was enthralling. Absolutely bloody enthralling.

A pity, in the end, that it had to be resolved on penalties. But for the two hours of the Adelaide v. Newcastle preliminary final, we saw just how far the A-League has come in its second year (in almost every department bar the eternal Australian shibboleth – the finishing). The comparison to last year’s indifferent preliminary final between Adelaide and the Mariners is striking.

Let us hope that the grand final, too, will be a good deal better than the dull affair of 2005/06.

Daniel Beltrame, as you would expect, rejected Simon Hill’s suggestion that he was the hero of the afternoon. Yet he was certainly one of them; time and again, in that frantic extra-time period, he came to Adelaide’s rescue. There were plenty of tired men in red shirts out there, and they were extremely fortunate to have a goalkeeper in outstanding form behind them.

Adelaide’s other hero, of course, was the magnificent Angelo Costanzo, who proved once again that he is one of the finest players in the competition. Although his distribution was not always up to its usual standard, his tackling, positioning and anticipation were simply exemplary.

Tactically, I felt that both managers missed a trick in their initial deployments, and in the same area of the park. Nathan Burns has never looked comfortable on the left, and had perhaps his poorest game of the competition so far, often looking uncertain of how to continue when he received the ball. Adelaide, needless to say, improved immeasurably when Burns was replaced by his flatmate Bruce Djite, and Travis Dodd moved over to the left.

As for Gary van Egmond’s decision to leave Steve Eagleton on the bench for the entire game, it might just have been the mistake that has cost him a place in the grand final. It was not that Andrew Durante had a bad game, but with Burns ineffectual on the Adelaide left, the right was Newcastle’s obvious avenue for attack throughout; Joel Griffiths did indeed make significant inroads, but he largely lacked the support on the overlap that he has had from Eagleton so often this season.

And it should be added that Dodd, once he moved left, gave Durante a torrid time – even when the Adelaide winger was looking virtually out of puff.

John Kosmina, after two consecutive preliminary final chokes, almost did it again with his craven substitution of Owens for Veart. It might have worked had Burns shifted into a forward role, but instead Fernando was left alone up front, and Newcastle took control.

Two of Adelaide’s deficiencies were demonstrated perfectly when Newcastle equalised, too. First Ross Aloisi (who was given some undeserved adulation from the Fox commentators afterwards) gave away possession cheaply; Newcastle broke upfield, and Nick Carle was able to pick a precise pass through to Vaughan Coveny, as Michael Valkanis played him onside (as he has done with opposition forwards so, so often).

Shades of Newcastle’s first goal in the semi-final second leg, when Mark Rudan’s similar carelessness compounded Ruben Zadkovich’s misjudgement.

Yet Kosmina redeemed himself with his reshuffle thereafter. Djite proved difficult for the Newcastle back-line to handle, and with Dodd, curiously, looking more lively on the left than he had on the right, Adelaide grabbed the initiative back.

Even in extra time, when Adelaide were clearly dead on their feet, Dodd and Djite kept the defence busy; crucially, they were able to limit Paul Okon’s excursions into midfield as well.

Well done Adelaide United. Reaching the grand final without your most influential attacking player is a fine achievement.

Commiserations to Newcastle, who have provided some wonderful entertainment this season. It’s particularly unfortunate that the penalty curse ultimately descended upon Stuart Musialik, who has had such an excellent season.

And finally, I would like to announce that Mike Cockerill and Andy Harper were successful in their attempt to break the world cliché record during the extra time period. Congratulations, gentlemen.

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