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A Halloween horror movie bathed in Red

Manton St Tales

“We like watching the defenders try to pass their way out of dangerous situations instead of simply booting the ball clear … just as long as it doesn’t result in goals for our opponents.”

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I knew I’d once written those words. Turns out it was six months ago.

Less than two weeks later, Adelaide United hosted Brisbane Roar at Adelaide Oval. It was the first week of last season’s finals series.

In the first half, with United 1-0 up, Dylan McGowan beat Brisbane’s Thomas Broich to the ball.

The German midfielder, arguably the best player of the A-League’s first decade, chased the United defender but McGowan was able to clear the danger.

Except he chose not to. When McGowan looked up he mustn’t have seen an option he liked so, rather than play the ball long, he turned back to pass to goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic.

But the backpass was underhit; Broich pounced and scored.

It wasn’t the first example of the Reds conceding a goal when trying to retain possession instead of using a safer option (otherwise I’d never have written that paragraph in April).

On Saturday night the same two teams met and, early in the game, an Adelaide United player – this time it was Michael Marrone – had a chance to clear the ball when deep in defence.

The home fans would have probably jeered if Marrone lumped the ball into the stands. But, had he done so, the score might have remained 0-0.

Instead the United defender stuck to the Catalan playbook and tried to keep the ball. And, you guessed, Thomas Broich was around.

The inevitable turnover resulted in Brisbane forward Jamie Maclaren forcing a sharp save out of United keeper John Hall. But then the home team scored from the resulting corner.

There’s a saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right?

But it might be wasted at United because the club is starting to give the impression that delusion is one of the ingredients of the little bubble it exists in.

What else could explain United’s Twitter account pointing out (during the build up to the game) that the team had the highest percentage of possession and the best passing accuracy in the A-League this season?

Not surprisingly, there were no mentions of the only stats that count.

I accept that putting a positive gloss on the Reds’ season so far would challenge even Comical Ali. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine the club’s hierarchy believes that: there is a perfect relationship between keeping possession and winning; and Michael Marrone, Dylan McGowan, Osama Malik and Tarek Elrich are the long lost brothers of Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila.

Because we’re into the third year of Iberian rule and its policies remain rigid, even though it seemed a pragmatic performance in the season opener against Melbourne Victory might be a sign of a more flexible approach.

Other questionable tactics resurfaced in Brisbane as well. Sergio Cirio returned to the centre forward position despite the availability of Pablo Sanchez.

Now I know Sanchez had a wretched few minutes when he eventually came on late in the game but the lack of playing time he’s given is astounding. He was the Reds’ leading scorer last season and his eight goals were from just 17 starts and nine appearances as a substitute.

You want stats? Let me give you some more. On average, Sanchez scored once every 197 minutes last season. Among United’s current squad, the next best player on that measure was Marcelo Carrusca with a goal every 243 minutes.

Sure that’s simplistic but, goodness me, goals are infinitely more important than possession.

Shots on target are important too. And this was one positive for the Reds because they managed as many on Saturday night as they had in the first three matches combined (and, amazingly, despite having less possession).

On three occasions United could have scored after clever lobs over the Brisbane defence gave forwards a chance to run on to the ball but the ultimate reward proved elusive.

The quest for late goals saw the Reds move to a three-man defence. It worked about as well as it did against Melbourne Victory in an FFA Cup match in September and I respectfully ask the club to issue a warning to its supporters before trying this again. Some of us get scared easily (indeed, I’m willing to admit I’ve never been able to watch horror movies).

If the brains trust doesn’t think some adjustments are needed now it probably never will. Because there’s another stat they might have seen last night…

United is bottom.

Adelaide United player Tarek Elrich (right) fouls Brisbane Roar player Brandon Borrello during the round 4 Aleague match between the Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING EDITORIAL USE ONLY

United’s Tarek Elrich fouls the Roar’s Brandon Borrello. Photo: AAP

#SaveTheNix

After last week’s decision by Football Federation Australia to extend Wellington Phoenix’s A-League licence for only four years (instead of ten) coupled with the push for a third Sydney team to replace the New Zealand club, it was great to see the travelling Adelaide United fans display a #SaveTheNix banner at Saturday night’s game.

I covered this subject in March and I have little to add. To build interest, the A-League needs more teams; getting rid of one of the most stable clubs makes no sense.

It’s been pleasing that the rest of Australia’s soccer community has been overwhelmingly supportive of Wellington’s continued participation and it could encourage the club to carry on (rather than pull the plug this season).

Fan power doesn’t often succeed but it might in this instance so I hope the Red Army displays that sign again at Hindmarsh on Thursday night when United hosts Melbourne City.

Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist. He is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 11am on Saturdays. Manton St Tales will be published every Monday during the A-League season.

 

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