“I think it’s not good to speak about finals… we are not in the finals. We have 30 points – it’s my first year here but I know that 30 points aren’t enough to reach the finals.”
Blessedly, Adelaide United coach Marco Kurz managed not to say “one game at a time” in Friday night’s post-match press conference. But you get the sense that the words he used didn’t include an ounce of spin – it wasn’t needed.
Three weeks ago, after the Reds lost to Melbourne Victory, I conceded that, barring a sudden surge of form or a lot of luck (or both), United wouldn’t be a grand finalist this season.
Two weeks ago, I raised the previously unthinkable possibility that the Reds might miss the playoffs altogether. Now I’m getting the sense that a lot of supporters fear the same: the season looks like it’s petering out.
History shows that when that happens, casual fans tend to stay away. I know we obsess about attendance figures and there are several factors that affect them but 7668 for the first home game in a month (and against Melbourne City who the Reds are aiming to overtake in the run home) is underwhelming.
Yes, I know it rained and we’ve had festivals but even those who turned up seemed quieter than normal. The air had more resignation than moisture.
Still, I’d pay money just to watch Johan Absalonsen play. And if you’re one of those fans who’s written 2017-18 off, I’d urge you to click the turnstiles at least once more to see if he can inspire an unlikely revival. On Friday night he was in the starting team for the first time since October, when he was so impressive that some pundits were suggesting he was a potential player of the season.
Certainly, the Dane appears more likely to have a big impact in the closing rounds than United’s most recent signing, Džengis Čavušević.
The Reds’ new forward was given his first genuine opportunity against Melbourne City and my initial thought was that if George Blackwood (who was relegated to the bench to make way) put in a similar performance the more daft among United’s fans would have filled social media with criticism. More on that subject later.
It may be harsh to judge so soon. But irrespective of his ability, the Čavušević signing was a bit surprising.
At his most recent port of call, FC Zürich, the Slovenian attacker barely appeared in the senior team this season. He hasn’t played a full match since November and that was with his club’s under 21s which compete in Switzerland’s third division.
It’d be different if Čavušević was signed for a full season as he’d have time to settle in. But can you really expect a lot from a player – no matter how good – with so little recent game time to join a new club and make a big impact when only a few rounds remain?
Just as puzzling was the decision to recruit a chap to play at number nine when what the Reds really need is a playmaker. That’s what Karim Matmour was; Čavušević has taken the spot vacated by the Algerian international.
It’s frequently pointed out that goalscoring has been a problem for Adelaide United. I don’t blame Blackwood for that – strikers are only part of the story when a team struggles to find the back of the net.
And frankly, he is a player worth persisting with. Signing the young forward might turn out to be the best bit of business the club has done in recent times.
Blackwood is 20, has been a regular in national youth teams for several years, and has shown that he’s up to A-League standard. Goals may have dried up in recent rounds but that was after an impressive run of five in eight games.
He has a lot of development ahead of him and giving him as much game time as possible can only boost that. And if it’s productive, the club will benefit on the field and possibly off it as well.
The Reds’ new owners might do things differently but, until now, receiving transfer fees from overseas clubs for contracted players has been one of the ways that United has kept its balance sheet in check.
Unfortunately, there are United supporters who have been highly critical of Blackwood. I cannot teach them; those fans have no patience.
Of course, now that I’ve had this rant, Čavušević is bound to score a hat-trick against Newcastle this Friday.
But I’d welcome that. With Western Sydney only below the Reds on goal difference and Brisbane now just two points behind, fifth-placed United could drop out of the top six next weekend.
Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.
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