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Manton St Tales

The Old Boys' Club

Manton St Tales

Despite United’s first loss of their A-League campaign, Paul Marcuccitti remains bullish about the season ahead – as long as we can keep the awkward reunions with Adelaide’s departed champions to a minimum.

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Well I’m glad that’s out of the way.

Except that in March we’ll have to go through it again – a Reds championship team reunion at Hindmarsh held under the cover of an A-League game.

It wasn’t a subject I wanted to bother with given how much pre-match talk was focussed on the old boys’ return. Even as I was leaving home, at half time of Fox Sports’ coverage of the Wellington v Brisbane game, a teaser for the clash at Hindmarsh showed how many more matches the Melbourne City players had accumulated for the Reds than Adelaide United’s current squad has.

And for a brief period, everything about the season’s first match at Hindmarsh did seem perfectly normal: the first available spot in the Thebarton street I like to park on was about where I’d expect it to be, the line at the Manton Street ticket collection box was still ridiculously long a minute before kick off, and the nutters I sit with were in their traditional position at the back of the southern stand.

But then the ‘keeper protecting the goal in front of us – for Melbourne City – is Eugene Galekovic. Further up the field, Iacopo La Rocca, Bruce Kamau, Osama Malik and Stefan Mauk are wearing light blue. And I know Chelo Carrusca is in the visiting team’s squad as well.

That’s six chaps who were part of the Reds’ championship winning campaign of 2015-16.

And five of those six were in United’s starting team in the grand final at Adelaide Oval, held just 18 months ago.

The exception being Osama Malik who had been transferred to Melbourne City midseason – with Stefan Mauk moving in the opposite direction.

As they’re teammates now, I have wondered whether a conversation like the following one has taken place at the City Football Academy in recent months:

“Hey Ossie, you’re cool about that time United sent you here so they could sign me?”

“Well actually they offered me up for David Williams. They got you after he knocked them back.”

“Oh yeah… umm… that’s right…”

*awkward silence*

The strangeness of the evening continued after kick off but not before a few minutes that darkened my mood.

And it wasn’t just that United conceded early again, twice this time, because the identity of City’s goal scorer also made me see red (pun not intended but retained nonetheless).

Ross McCormack, on loan from Aston Villa, had a loan spell at Nottingham Forest (the Reds I love in English competition) earlier this year.

In the midst of a battle to avoid relegation to England’s third tier, we certainly needed goals. But in seven appearances McCormack produced just one – in a match we were losing 4-0.

Sure, Forest had shortcomings which the Glaswegian striker couldn’t be expected to fix overnight. But I wasn’t at my most rational at Hindmarsh so there was extra frustration in seeing McCormack find net-bursting form when I didn’t want him to.

Ross McCormack celebrates his goal with – who else? – former Adelaide United mainstay Iacopo La Rocca. Photo: James Elsby / AAP

His first goal was from a penalty given away by United’s ‘keeper Paul Izzo who was signed by the club late last season before Galekovic’s future with the Reds, if there was to be one, had been settled.

So naturally one of the next acts would be Galekovic thwarting his old employer. He produced the save of the match in the 25th minute to deny United (already two down) an early lifeline.

In keeping with the night’s oddities, the stunning shot kept out by the former United custodian was hit by the Reds’ fourth-choice centre back.

And that player, Ben Warland, continued to look a possible scorer; he was also centimetres away with a fine header in first half stoppage time. A couple of guys who are expected to at least occasionally find the back of the net were somewhat less accurate with their attempts.

It was Warland’s fourth A-League appearance having made one in each of the last three seasons (though he did also figure in United’s Asian Champions League campaign earlier this year). He will surely see more action in 2017-18.

Which leads me to the best takeaway from Saturday’s game.

The Reds’ depth is probably better than most of us anticipated. They faced the only team with a 100 per cent record this season; were backing up from a bruising midweek FFA Cup encounter in Sydney; and (count ‘em) Tarek Elrich, Ersan Gülüm, Taylor Regan, Vince Lia, Johan Absalonsen and Baba Diawara were all missing.

Yet after going two goals down United responded well and would have brought themselves back into the game with a bit more attacking polish.

I maintain that there is a lot to look forward to this season. If only we could be spared these awkward reunions with the old boys which, frankly, feel a bit like attending a wedding to watch a former partner marry someone else.

Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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