Adelaide United Youth has taken a massive step towards securing its top-flight status for next season with a plucky 3-2 win over MetroStars on Saturday.
Nestor Irankunda and Binyam Kebede fired the Young Reds into a commanding 2-0 lead at half-time at TK Shutter Reserve.
Bernardo then scored between Josh Mori’s second-half brace as United Youth held on for its first triumph in eight games and move further away from the relegation zone with two matches remaining.
Joe Gauci was forced into an early save while at the other end Metro goalkeeper Jackson O’Donnell gifted the visitors the opening goal following a poor clearance.
Irankunda duly profited, setting himself before chipping the ball over the shot-stopper and into an empty net on 14 minutes.
Kebede doubled United Youth’s advantage in the 38th minute with a scintillating strike on the edge of the area.
Irankunda turned in front of the halfway line and dribbled forward before playing a ball out to Fergus Lynch and his square pass invited the striker to shoot and subsequently net his eighth goal of the campaign.
The hosts started the second stanza with ostensibly more urgency and Hamish Gow tested the gloves of newly introduced ‘keeper Steven Hall with a ferocious snapshot.
In the 51st minute, Adelaide’s goal was breached from a set-piece. Hall appeared to have been fouled as he punched the corner away which fell only as far as Mori, and his shot trickled through a sea of bodies.
But Airton Andrioli’s side capitalised on another defensive mishap by Metro to make it 3-1.
Irankunda chased down a tame back-pass and as he went one-on-one with the goalkeeper the ball flicked out to Bernardo for a simple tap-in.
Mori grabbed his second four minutes later in the 73rd minute after latching onto a through ball from Rocky Callisto.
However, the Young Reds navigated their way through the final exchanges and mustered a vital triumph to move to 25 points, six clear of eleventh placed Raiders.
Speaking after the match, Andrioli was impressed with his team’s resilience to produce a much-needed victory.
“I guess we’re happy because of the situation we’re in at the moment which is quite unfortunate,” he said.
“We’ve done so well this year. I don’t like to say this lightly, but I don’t think we deserve to be in this situation.
“We’ve done enough and played football to be even pushing to play finals, but unfortunately we got punished in some games.
“Obviously, today the boys had to stand up and again the first 45 minutes was excellent. We expected the opposition to come out in the second-half and put some pressure.
“And they played a low margin game, they played long balls and tried to exploit our weaknesses at the back, but credit to the boys they did really well and dug in and this time I think we’ve done enough to deserve the win which was crucial for us today.”
Andrioli was also pleased with how his front three forced MetroStars into frequent turnovers due to employing an effective high-pressing game.
“Yesterday morning at training, we spent about 45 minutes working on our pressing,” he explained.
“It’s something that I think we could’ve done better in past games and credit to the boys especially young Nestor (Irankunda) on the right side and Bernardo playing on the other side.
“They did a tremendous job pressing them and it paid dividends for us. We actually scored goals from that and that’s what we expect from the boys.
“Putting that practice into games, high-pressure games and I guess from the boys’ point of view I think it was excellent playing those types of games because it’s a very good experience for ticking some boxes of their development.”
While the win has not mathematically guaranteed United Youth’s place in next season’s National Premier League, it has certainly put them in a significantly stronger position to avoid the drop.
But despite being two games clear of Raiders, Andrioli affirmed they cannot afford to become complacent with several permutations still possible.
Conversely, United Youth can still make the top six with just four points separating third-place MetroStars (29) and ninth-ranked United (25).
“I don’t think we’re safe yet,” he insisted
“We’ve still got two games to go and we’re going to play those two games to get a result.
“I think the football we’ve played this year, we deserve a little bit better – being in a much better position.
“But that’s something that we know is always going to happen when you’ve a group of really young players that haven’t got the experience to deal with those moments.
“But we’re going to prepare for the next two games. We want to win the next two games and see what happens – anything can still happen.
“By no means do we think we’re safe yet, we’re going to do what we normally do. Prepare the boys to go and play and win games.”
Adelaide United Reserves
MetroStars 1-1 Adelaide United Reserves