Cornthwaite’s Corner: Round 18

Robbie Cornthwaite has given his view on the Reds leading into Round 18.
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An instant classic at Coopers Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The A-League Men’s first ever 4-4 draw wasn’t the result the home side wanted, but the fans certainly got their money’s worth.

Ryan Kitto said it after the match: “Two points dropped” and a missed opportunity to go to second on the ladder with Melbourne City coming to Adelaide in a fortnight’s time. The chance to move up the table was obviously a massive carrot and the ideal situation, but the opening to put a five-point gap on the chasing pack was the real killer. If United could have held on, it would have given them a comfortable buffer over the pack of teams currently on 24-points. Western Sydney’s late equaliser means the gap to 7th is just three.

Fatigue definitely played a part in conceding a late fourth, but there’s one fundamental part of defending that could have prevented the goal. It’s not often talked about that much, but you cannot let the player come into the penalty area if you want to make the challenge. The Reds’ defence needed to engage the attacking player as soon as possible. Kitto had the chance first, but, on a yellow, was limited in the effort he could make. Craig Goodwin and Louis D’Arrigo had one hand tied behind their backs as soon as Amor Layouni got himself in the box.

It was clever play from the Wanderers man, who dinked the ball between them, knowing they’d have to give up a penalty if they wanted to stop him. After that, there has to be more desperation to close him down. It all looks a bit half-hearted, and those moments can define a season.

It was brilliant to see Hiroshi Ibusuki get back to his goal-scoring ways. The decision to give him the penalty was an interesting one for me. All’s well that ends well, but in such an important game, I would have preferred Goodwin, the usual penalty taker, to just step up and bury it. It shows he’s a good captain, willing to sacrifice himself for the good of his teammate, but Ibusuki’s goal drought isn’t his responsibility to fix. Sure, set him up or lay one off for him, but don’t change a winning formula. Maybe I’m being harsh, but luckily the Japanese import scored.

Adelaide scored some brilliant goals. Hiroshi’s second was excellent play, and the ball from Zach Clough was a delight. The disallowed goal at the end of the first half would have been Adelaide’s best of the season. The layoff and the subsequent ball from Goodwin were sublime. Ben Halloran played a perfect cross to Clough, who’d just strayed offside. I was at the ground, so I never saw a proper replay, but my immediate reaction was that he didn’t hold his run enough.

I’m taking a deep dive through some stats this week, and there’s a real area of concern for United. Brandon Borrello’s 50th-minute goal on Sunday was the 11th conceded by the Reds in the 15 minutes after halftime this season. We praise the side for their fast starts and never say die attitude of late, but that’s 40 per cent of the goals conceded this season coming after the restart.

There needs to be more of a focus in the second half. If it’s mental, then there needs to be a reminder from the players and staff, but it’s largely down to the individual. I used to ride a bike at halftime to stay warm, as it would take me a while to get moving in the second half once my body cooled down. There might be a case for the players to come out a few minutes early prior to kickoff and go through some short, sharp sprints to be 100 per cent ready to start the second half. I’m sure it’s something the staff are aware of.

This week it’s Melbourne Victory, and as we all know with this type of fixture, form goes out the window. Nothing proves that more than Victory beating ladder-leaders, Melbourne City, on the weekend when the two sides were separated by 11 places on the table and 20 points.

Victory have a spring in their step now. They should have had more against Newcastle, and now a derby win has them primed for a big, late finals push.

They were active in the transfer market last month too. Connor Chapman looked solid in the midfield on the weekend, Damien Da Silva has added experience in defence and will be confident after scoring last week, and Fernando Romero looks like a typical South American upfront. In his cameo, Romero looks like a player who’s a real handful, someone who’s hungry, and someone who knows his way around a football pitch.

Victory registered five shots on target from six attempts against City, showing they might have found their clinical edge that’s been missing over the last few months. Goals have been hard to come by but with just over 30 per cent of possession on the weekend they looked dangerous when given space. Chris Ikonomidis, Ben Folami, Nishan Velupillay, and former Adelaide man, Bruce Kamau, are all capable of tearing any defence apart – and we are well aware of what Adelaide-born or former players love to do against their hometown club, à la Borrello.

Veart again opted to change his defensive pairing, and that plays right into the hands of the opposition. I don’t think any centre back has put their hand up to make that position their own this season. They all lack confidence, and this week players like Romero and Bruno Fornaroli are players who’ll look to prey on that.

This game will be won or lost in the little moments like the ones that cost United on Sunday. If you want to be the very best, you need to do the simple, yet difficult, things when they matter.

The pressure is starting to ramp up now as the season slowly reaches its peak. If you can’t do your job when it matters most, then there’s no point in doing it at all.

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