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United stumbles from heroism to capitulation

Manton St Tales

Adelaide United’s season could be much worse but there are signs this campaign could end in frustration, writes Paul Marcuccitti.

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And to think we nearly made it to 12 months since our last 5-0 loss.

That, you might remember, was more dramatic: at home, during a miserable season, and (most embarrassingly) at the hands of Perth Glory. After the final whistle, Guillermo Amor all but confirmed that the 2016-17 campaign would be his last in Adelaide.

So it could be worse. This season has had its disappointments but it certainly hasn’t been depressing; the coach hasn’t suggested he’s leaving and yesterday’s opponent was a reasonably good side playing on its patch.

Nevertheless, the pained question is already being asked: how did the team that heroically held high-flying Sydney FC to a draw last weekend capitulate against Melbourne City?

There are several reasons but let’s not kid ourselves – given the inexperience of the United side that played at Hindmarsh a week ago, a 5-0 loss then would have been less surprising than the 0-0 draw that eventuated.

Among the silly lines that dominate social media is that A-League teams recycle players too much – that clubs are too willing to sign a 28-year-old (who has already played for two or three rivals) at the expense of promoting youth.

It’s a wonderful way to get yourself three likes and two supportive replies.

But there are at least two problems with this cheer-chasing stance. Firstly, most fans want to see the teams they support win (I know, shocking). And, following on from that, teams with more experienced players are more likely to succeed than those built on youth.

Adelaide United certainly hasn’t eschewed older players. Indeed, chaps like Taylor Regan and Vince Lia might have been given the dreadful recycled label when they became Reds. But the squad’s continuing injury problems have made it necessary to select several inexperienced players.

And yes, their performance last weekend was extraordinary and showed that a few have promising futures.

But you can’t expect that every week. Last night, some who stood tall against Sydney FC’s might didn’t cope with the team that’s third on the ladder (a spot that hadn’t been far out of United’s reach).

Coach Marco Kurz did have the three players that had been away with Australia’s under-23 team in the squad yesterday but chose to start them all on the bench.

He is best-placed to judge their readiness to play, of course, but I do wonder if he would have been better off starting the two returning outfield players – Ben Garuccio and George Blackwood – and withdrawing them if they tired.

The Reds looked better in the second half when Garuccio went to left back, which allowed Ryan Strain to move into midfield, but when that change was made they were already 2-0 down. It’s easy with hindsight I suppose (and from your armchair).

Unfortunately, the last 15 minutes of playing time saw 2-0 became 5-0 through a combination of poor defensive work by United and wonder strikes by Dario Vidošić and Ross McCormack.

You could say it was a harsh result given that Apostolos Stamatelopoulos had a terrific chance saved when the score was 0-0 and the same happened with a George Blackwood effort at 2-0 but, while the final margin should perhaps have been smaller, the Reds were second best yesterday.

And it’s likely to cost United a better path through the finals. As I’ve mentioned before, whoever finishes third has a reasonable opportunity to progress through the end of season playoffs. It’ll be a lot harder from fourth or lower.

United went into last night’s match just four points behind Melbourne City. Now that the gap is seven, with 10 rounds to go, the Reds’ task is so much harder.

Having a fully-fit squad, or at least one with just a couple of players sidelined, would certainly help. But it feels like we’ve been saying that all season.

So although the 2017-18 campaign still has a long way to run, I already sense it may be remembered with some frustration.

Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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