Cornthwaite’s Corner: Round 21

Robbie Cornthwaite has given his view on the Reds leading into Round 21.
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I’m starting to sound like a broken record, so I’ll keep it short this week. It’s almost a copy and paste performance from the Reds.

Not everything you’re seeing is taking place in the same order or at the exact same moment, but this team is starting to produce some real consistency. That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues or that things couldn’t be done better because they certainly could, but it feels like it’s been some time since the players haven’t shown up.

He’s been on top of his game for a long time now, so for me, Craig Goodwin has overtaken Melbourne City skipper, Scott Jamieson, as the league’s most influential captain. Jamo is a brilliant leader and has been an absolute beast over the past few seasons. He’s been a key reason why City has been able to do what they’ve done and win what they have.

Craig spoke after the match about leading by example, and even if he’s not scoring or assisting, he’s still putting in every bit of energy to make sure the team is ticking, and it seems to be having a trickle-down effect.

The consistency in his performances has been mirrored by his team. When he was out and sick after the World Cup, the team’s performances were up and down week by week. But Craig and the team have been on a steady climb for the past two months.

On Saturday night, we saw all the elements you’ve become accustomed to seeing recently.

They created plenty of chances, scored plenty of goals, conceded, were slow to come out after half-time, and then finished strongly with an impact off the bench. It’s always disappointing when you let the opposition back into a game, and although United eventually put the Jets away, they need to close-out games better.

It was brilliant to see Luka Jovanović grab the first goal of his A-League career. We’ve heard so much about a lot of other Adelaide United kids recently, but he’s a player I know many people, and Carl included, really think highly of. Obviously, he took his chance and worked extremely hard in the win over City to keep his place and earn a start against Newcastle. Even if he’s relegated to the bench for the rest of the season, he’s going to have a lot more belief and desire whenever he’s called upon in the closing stages of a match.

Nestory Irankunda got himself another goal, but it was his contested play that stood out for me. Over recent weeks, he’s appeared hungrier to do the work required, chasing back, tackling, and competing well in the air, using his incredible power to make up for his lack of size.

Against the Jets he was involved in 12 duels, 12 contests for an in-dispute ball. He was on the park for more than 30 minutes, and only four players on the field, across both teams, competed in more duels than Nestory. He won eight of his 12 duels; Isaías was the only other player on the ground to win as many. That to me says he’s up for the fight; he’s getting to the contest, and he wants to win it. He’s turning 50/50 balls into possession for his team and a chance to run at the defence for himself, and that’s how he’s getting his reward, not through luck but by sheer hard work and determination.

A special mention for Louis D’Arrigo who’s really stepped up in the absence of Juande. He’s been able to get on the scoresheet a few times, but he has brought real energy and aggression to the midfield over the past few months, and I thought he was exceptional on the weekend once again.

When you’re at the top, the games don’t get easier. You’d think after a nine-game unbeaten run you may have earned yourself a bit of a breather or opened a gap on the pack, well think again.

Wellington makes the trip to Coopers this week on the back of an impressive few weeks. They’re breathing down the Reds’ necks and will go above Adelaide with a win. It’s incredible to think that Adelaide could still finish the round as low as fifth if they taste defeat for the first time since the first week of January.

There’s one key reason Wellington is where it is: Oskar Zawada! This guy is a serious player and a massive threat to United’s unbeaten run. He’s on a goal-scoring run only rivalled by Jamie Maclaren. He’s incredibly good in the air, his movement is fantastic, and he’s a poacher.

The key will be stopping his supply. He’s not a guy that’s going to dribble past two or three players or run in behind one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Adelaide needs to win the midfield battle, as they have done for the majority of 2023.

There are two ways to do it.

Obviously, put as much pressure on the ball as possible. Don’t allow players time to get their heads up to try and pick a pass or cross. Force them backwards and sideways, and out of the final third, where they can be so damaging.

The second is to deny Wellington the ball. Adelaide hasn’t always been great at breaking down set defences this season, but they have been quite good at keeping the ball in the opposition half. This will be vital if they want to keep the Nix pinned back and away from their goal.

The visitors are chasing a home final of their own, a first since 2015, and will provide a stern test, but it’s another chance for United to put a gap on the chasing pack. With six games to go, a buffer of any kind is important, especially with matches against Sydney, Wanderers, and Mariners still to come.

Lastly, a massive congratulations to Craig, Joe, and Nestory, who have all been named in the Socceroos squad to take on Ecuador later this month. Nestory’s rapid rise is truly remarkable, and although he’s only been named as a “train-on” player, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets his chance.

Craig will obviously have a big role to play, but I’m really hoping Joe gets his chance, if only for 45 minutes. He’s been a standout for two seasons now and is destined for big things.

Good luck, lads.

(So much for keeping this short!)

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