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Festive lights go on for Adelaide United

Manton St Tales

When the Christmas lights go on at the brewery, Adelaide United comes to play.

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Just in case you haven’t noticed catalogues in your mailbox, electronic media advertising, decorations on neighbours’ houses, carols being played non-stop in stores, and those ridiculous reindeer antlers on cars, it’ll soon be Christmas Day.

I’m ok with all those things (except the antlers) but their volume can make any sign of the festive season seem like it’s part of one big blur.

Ah but the brewery’s riverbank Christmas lights get me every time.

As I went past them on my way to Friday night’s game against Sydney FC, I remembered the lights were operational when Adelaide United won the inaugural FFA Cup. On Wednesday it’ll be exactly a year since that happened.

Indeed some of the Reds most important and memorable victories in recent seasons have been around this time of year and just a few hundred metres from those lights.

Today is the second anniversary of United thrashing Central Coast Mariners 4-0 at Hindmarsh. That match snapped a winless streak of eight games and was played the day after an argument between then coach Josep Gombau and The Advertiser’s Val Migliaccio got a bit personal.

A year before that, the Reds, under John Kosmina, recorded consecutive home wins in December: 4-2 over Melbourne Victory and 3-1 against Wellington Phoenix. In both games, all of United’s goals were scored in the first half.

Eventually the lights get turned off. At the brewery and Adelaide United (no doubt the club would rather not talk up any link given that another brewer holds the naming rights for Hindmarsh Stadium).

The two big home wins in 2012 were followed by a 6-1 humiliation in Parramatta against a club that had just been formed. Kosmina resigned a month later.

The 4-0 win over the Mariners in 2013 began an impressive run of results but the Reds would falter late in the season and be eliminated in the first week of finals … by Central Coast.

And when United won the FFA Cup a year ago, it seemed the club might be on its way to more honours at the end of the A-League season. Nope.

Matches like this one remind you why you go, particularly when a run of poor results challenge even the most passionate supporters.

In fact 2015 has been an ordinary year for the team with only 10 wins – and 11 losses – from 26 A-League matches. Two of those wins were from the first two games in January and there have been two in the last eight days. That makes February to November look even bleaker (six wins, five draws, 11 losses).

On top of that, some fine players left the club, Gombau resigned hastily and the defence of the FFA Cup ended with a dire performance against Melbourne Victory.

United’s history may not have been full of trophy-lifting glory but it has produced many magical nights at Hindmarsh going all the way back to the club’s first game in October 2003.

But apart from a 2-1 win over Western Sydney in February, secured by a Sergio Cirio goal in stoppage time, 2015 has lacked truly memorable triumphs at the team’s normal home.

The game against Sydney FC didn’t promise to be the one that brought the magic back, however, the end of fan boycotts, the return of moderate weather, some improved form in recent weeks, and the best United starting line up of the season, all provided some optimism. And the brewery lights are on.

Matches like this one remind you why you go, particularly when a run of poor results challenge even the most passionate supporters.

No goals in the first half but plenty of incidents. Sydney’s Alex Gersbach is going to be a great player – perhaps even a Socceroo – but he’s still a teenager and will surely learn to avoid the kind of dangerous lunge that got him sent off in the 28th minute.

And Pablo Sanchez was in the thick of the action. He finally started at centre forward for the Reds and might have scored twice before half time: first from a magnificent free kick that hit the bar and then with a header that did find the back of the net but was ruled out because the Spaniard was offside by no more than five centimetres.

United’s fans could have been forgiven for thinking a goal might never come when, in the 55th minute, Sanchez nearly buried a superb cross from Jimmy Jeggo only to be thwarted by an outstanding save by Sydney ‘keeper Vedran Janjetovic.

Jeggo would finally open the scoring a few minutes later. His initial drive thundered off the woodwork but after a bit of head tennis from the rebound, the hard-working midfielder had another shot and goaled.

With an extra player on the pitch, that should have been game over, but Sydney equalised through Filip Holosko. Replays showed the Slovakian forward was offside but the goal was allowed to stand. When you’ve been struggling, moments like that can make you think it’s not going to be your season.

But the Reds responded well. I’ve questioned their resolve a few times this year. Not on this occasion.

Even though a winning goal was eluding United, coach Guillermo Amor resisted making substitutions until the dying minutes, which is unusual. There are two likely reasons: he’d found the most effective combination in midfield and up forward; and the Reds were dominating.

The home team deserved victory but had it not been for the intervention of Sydney defender Jacques Faty, the final score would have almost certainly remained 1-1. His clumsy challenge on Dylan McGowan gave Marcelo Carrusca the chance to win the match from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game.

People who prefer high scoring sports often struggle to understand why soccer is so popular. It would take a full column to do the subject justice but one of the reasons is the drama it produces – and a lot of that drama is a by-product of goals being hard to come by.

If Carrusca’s penalty fails, United is stuck on one win having scored just three goals in its last four games and finals look as far away as ever. Moreover, the Reds would have failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity to secure all three points (as has happened a couple of other times this season).

But if he scores, that’s two wins in a row – some momentum. And it’s a closing of the gap on teams in the finals places. It’s also what the lights on the riverbank promise: happiness and some hope for the future.

The Argentine’s shot is unsaveable.

And in that moment, the magic, which has been absent for so long, returns. The celebration could only have been more joyous if a title or cup had been won.

A good result in Newcastle this Friday would provide another Christmas treat for United’s fans.

But to enjoy a Happy New Year, the Reds need to shine well after the festive season’s lights are switched off.

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 is normally published on Mondays during the A-League season.

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