Cornthwaite’s Corner: Friday nights at Coopers Stadium, normal service resumes

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I said last week that Adelaide United home games are the envy of the A-league, and boy did the boys back me up. What a brilliant way to start the new season.

Three goals, three points, and a clean sheet against last season’s bogey side and current champions Central Coast. I’m not sure Reds fans could have asked for more.

Carl Veart said in his pre-game presser that his team was far better prepared for round one than last season, and I think that was reflected less in the result but more in the overall performance.

The first 15 minutes were the Mariners’ best and they did cause the home side a few issues, but after that, United had the majority of control and always looked the most likely.

 A lot has been made of Adelaide’s defensive record in recent seasons, and to keep a clean sheet in the opening round, making it four in four, including the last three pre-season games, will do wonders for the team’s confidence. There were a few noticeable differences from my point of view.

Firstly, Adelaide seemed far more selective when deploying the high press, and while they did win the ball high up the pitch at times, they were also happy to drop back into the midfield before putting pressure on the ball carrier. This wasn’t parking the bus, but just getting more numbers in a deeper block and choosing to allow CCM to have more comfortable possession in their back third.

At times, Adelaide did allow them to change sides with the ball too easily, especially early on, but less so as the match wore on. When you have them locked in on one side, you can’t let them get out to the open side.

Adelaide’s structure looked a lot better than it has in the past, but the Reds were still probably a little lucky not to concede. Joe Gauci made three or four big saves and was probably close to man of the match for me. You need your keeper at times, but he’s not always going to be able to make big saves when you need it.

Ben Halloran looked as good as I’ve seen in the past 12 months, and it was great to see him open his account for the season. Hopefully, many more are to come. It was hard to find anyone who didn’t contribute. Hiroshi Ibusuki didn’t have a stack of balls, but every time he was involved, he looked dangerous. Panashe Madanha was exciting at right back, Johnny Yull had some nice moments, and Nick Ansell and Alexander Popovic barely put a foot wrong.

Now for Nestory Irankunda; if we weren’t sure he could start a game, we are now. It was a different type of performance from the 17-year-old, one that I think showed a lot of maturity. In general, he was a solid contributor, did his job defensively for the most part, and still managed to sprinkle in some magic. He was clearly the most dangerous player on the park and had four or five great moments. On another day, he might have had a goal and could have easily finished with three assists after a few slaloming runs cutting the ball back into great areas. If someone was gambling and getting into the box, they might have had a tap-in.

The best thing I saw was just before he was subbed off. He sprinted half of the pitch to chase a ball down by the corner flag, and under pressure he tried to backheel it through the defender’s legs, with very little else on. After losing the ball it would have been easy to slowly jog back but he didn’t. He put in another massive effort to win the ball back and almost create an opening for his side. It was a clear sign he’s improved physicality and mentally. I can’t wait to see more of it  

The competition benchmark is next up on Sunday evening. It’s a strange time for a game, particularly in Adelaide. Melbourne City started the season with a loss and haven’t lost back-to-back games regularly in recent years.

It’s only round two, but what an opportunity to get a jump on the league early on! Bring it on.

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