Sometimes you just need to put your hand up and admit you got it wrong.
Five weeks ago, I honestly didn’t think Adelaide would play finals.
Their form was dodgy, their gameplan was stale and having played more games than the chasing pack, it seemed probable they would fall away.
I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
I’m still not a fan of everything Carl Veart does – some of his squad selections and tactical decision still baffle me – but credit where it’s due: the Reds have made finals by finishing a very respectable fourth. That should be applauded.
Speaking purely from a statistical standpoint, the Reds have had a very solid year.
For example, United have only lost three games away from home all season: 1-0 to Western United, 3-0 to Central Coast and a nasty 4-1 reverse to Macarthur. Very respectable by any measure.
There is only one team with fewer losses away from home than the Reds: Melbourne Victory (two). Melbourne City have also only lost three times away this season.
Adelaide is averaging 1.46 goals scored per match, while the average goals conceded is 1.19. The Reds failed to score in five matches (but also, only kept a clean sheet six times).
This season saw several youngsters take a leap forward in their development. Here I’m mostly thinking of Irankunda, Oliveira and Popovic. Veterans have held the fort admirably: Javi Lopez started 25 of a possible 26 league games while Isaias and Juande both played in 22 matches.
George Blackwood has arguably had his best season in the A-League Mens competition, despite only playing 691 minutes in 14 outings, an average of just under 50 minutes per appearance.
Hiroshi Ibusuki, who rode the pine on Sunday against Western United as a disciplinary precaution – one more yellow card would have meant a suspension for the first final – has been an excellent addition to the squad, scoring six goals and assisting another in 1272 minutes of action, an average goal or assist once every two games. The Reds must hang onto him for next season.
It took a little time, but Lachlan Barr has adjusted to the rigours of the competition since he was drafted in as an injury replacement for Nick Ansell and, if form is anything to go by, should be rewarded with another deal.
All-in-all, everyone at United should be pleased with the home-and-away season.
But now it’s time to make all the hard work through the season count for something.
Of course, traditionalists still want a “first-past-the-post” system for Australian soccer, but finals remain a unique and exciting part of our game.
The Australian Professional Leagues have re-jigged how finals work this season.
The first round of games will still be elimination matches. That will pit Western United against Wellington Phoenix on Saturday night and Adelaide against Central Coast on Sunday.
The winners will progress to the semis, which will be played over two legs where away goals do not count.
The lowest ranked team will play Melbourne City and the other winner will face off against Victory. The first leg will be played mid-next week at the home of the lower ranked team and the second leg next weekend.
The winners of the two semi-finals will then play in the Grand Final on Saturday 28 May.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Before they can dream of a Grand Final birth, the Reds must dispatch the Mariners – who are also in hot form, with no defeats in their last five matches.
United and Central Coast have played twice this season, splitting the series with a win each. Statistically, there’s barely been a whisker between them. It should be a tight game.
What’s certain is the Reds will need to work out how to stop Jason Cummings, who’s put aside the behavioural issues which dogged him in Scotland to become one of the best strikers in the competition.
It’s also going to be great to see Garang Kuol up close. The youngster has been scintillating for the Mariners lately and many pundits expect him, like his brother, to be plying his trade in Europe very soon.
Adelaide cannot take the game for granted and will be relying on its own star, Craig Goodwin, to remind us why he’s one of the best players in the league.
Should United get through this tough first round game, they’ll be playing with house money. Having been eliminated at the semi-final stage in their last few finals appearances, the Reds will surely be keen to go one better and make a Grand Final.
And if (it’s a big if, mind you), the three teams who finished above them in the ladder are eliminated, South Australia will host the big game.
Home ground advantage could make the difference on Sunday. So, let’s get down to Hindmarsh and support this team.
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