Adelaide United striker Bruce Djite may well be the most improved player in the Hyundai A-League in 2015-16, with the 29-year-old arguably in the form of his life.
Djite continued his blistering scoring form to notch Adelaide’s first two goals in their 4-1 semi-final triumph over Melbourne City on Friday night, while he also set up Pablo Sanchez for the fourth.
The Reds carried the powerful centre-forward for much of the campaign – Djite was scoreless in his first 12 appearances this season – but he has paid back coach Guillermo Amor and his team-mates when it’s counted.
Djite’s brace against City took his season tally to 11 goals, surpassing his previous best A-League effort – 10 for Gold Coast United in 2010-11.
It also continued his amazing conclusion to the campaign.
Djite has scored nine goals in Adelaide’s last 10 matches, including six in their past four.
The United States-born striker scored in the final round to help the Reds lift the Premiers Plate before propelling them into the grand final on Friday.
While some may argue Adelaide centre-back Dylan McGowan could also be considered the A-League’s most improved player, the difference in ages makes Djite’s advancement much more noteworthy.
McGowan, 24, perhaps should have been expected to improve at this point of his career but for Djite – five years the defender’s senior – the past four seasons in South Australia had seemingly indicated a inescapable decline.
Djite scored five goals in 2011-12 upon his return to Adelaide before notching season tallies of two, five and six.
Injuries played their role and clearly a new-found durability is paying dividends for Djite, who looked incredibly sharp against City.
Adelaide dominated the first half at Coopers Stadium, with Djite’s lay-offs and strong hold-up play sparking attack after attack from the hosts.
He went close to breaking the deadlock in the 24th minute but couldn’t beat City goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen at the near post but two minutes into the second half, the home crowd rose as one to celebrate Djite’s opening goal.
A loose ball fell to the striker around 25 yards from goal and he bent a stunning right-footed effort into the far top corner of Sorensen’s net.
It was 2-0 on the hour mark after Bruce Kamau earned the Reds a penalty and Djite – just as he had at AAMI Park a fortnight ago – beat Sorensen from the spot.
City would have their moment – Nick Fitzgerald struck with 18 minutes remaining to make the home fans nervous – but Adelaide eventually clinched a home grand final in emphatic fashion with McGowan and then Sanchez adding goals in the closing stages.
For much of the season, Amor had to rely on his entire squad to score enough goals but heading into next week’s season decider at the Adelaide Oval, the Reds can justifiably claim to have one of the hottest strikers in the competition at their disposal.
Take a bow, Bruce Djite.