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Cornthwaite’s Corner: Round 26

Robbie Cornthwaite has given his view on the Reds leading into Round 26.
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After a quiet fortnight action-wise, the Reds we’ve come to expect returned with a bang. Sunday’s four-all draw with Perth was just the second time in A-League history that a match has ended 4-4. The other occasion was just a few months ago, when Adelaide and Western Sydney Wanderers shared the same score at Coopers.

United has one big problem heading into the finals that can’t be ignored: they can’t defend. It’s one thing to say they are an attacking team, and that leaves them valuable at the back, but 3-2 up away from home in stoppage time, you simply cannot allow the opposition to score from a throw-in when you have so many players defending the box. They were panicking and had no composure. Alexandar Popović and Javi López basically ran into each other trying to clear the ball.

Adelaide can game-manage well enough early in matches, but for this team to go to the next level this year or next, it must improve its ability to see out games. Take away Nestory Irankunda’s eight goals off the bench, and there’s no way Adelaide are still in the race for second.

Perth was the better side early, and the long, straight ball caused Adelaide a lot of issues. I spoke earlier in the season about Popović’s positioning and someone needs to work with him one-on-one and go through the fundamentals of when to drop and when to push up. You can’t push up when the player on the ball has time and is facing forwards. He needs to be always side-on but gets caught square way too often. He’s a brilliant talent with a bright future. I like him a lot, but there is a definite weakness in his game.

I thought Jonny Yull was very solid in his starting debut, and his ability to get in between the lines and beat a player was impressive. He and Luka Jovanović showed the most energy and dynamism in the first half.

The bounce of the ball certainly favoured the away team in the second half, as they got on top for large parts midway through.

After only being named in the squad on game day after missing most of the week through illness, Nestory looked sharp and was back to the player who’d been missing the past few weeks. Maybe some time off and a bit of a freshen-up did him some good. Let’s hope the same can be said for Lachlan Barr, Jay Barnett, Hiroshi Ibusuki, and Zach Clough when they return this week or next.

Carl said he didn’t know if there was a great advantage to finishing second and having the first week of finals off because there’s always the chance you could lose momentum. But having to play one less knockout game can only be a good thing. It’d also give the players mentioned above an extra week to recover if needed.

The finals are coming this week, with everything still to play for against the Mariners. There are still three teams capable of finishing in second place, with Wanderers taking on City in Melbourne on Friday night. Both matches will kick off at the same time, so Adelaide won’t know what result they need. A point might be enough, but a win would make it beyond doubt.

The Mariners have been playing finals football for the past few weeks in pursuit of the Reds. After winning last week’s F3 Derby and all but ending Newcastle’s finals hopes, they’ll be full of confidence. They smashed United in Gosford this season in the only meeting between the two sides.

The two teams are not too dissimilar in their makeup. Young managers are doing an outstanding job with limited resources. Young, exciting players proving they are more than good enough to do the business, and experienced superstars in the right areas capable of producing a moment of magic

For me, these are the two most entertaining and exciting teams in the league.

Bring on Friday and finals football.

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