Adelaide down Wanderers, crowned A-League Champions
Adelaide United lifted their first A-League Championship trophy on Sunday night, defeating the Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1 in front of 50,119 fans at a pulsating Adelaide Oval.
Goals to Bruce Kamau, Isaias and Pablo Sanchez sealed the win for the home side, as Adelaide completed the A-League double in a season which saw them come from last at Christmas to first in April to champions in May.
Both sides came into the season decider with an almost clean bill of health, with just Adelaide’s Eli Babalj unavailable due to injury.
As a result, both Guillermo Amor and Tony Popovic elected to field unchanged squads, meaning the likes of Tarek Elrich and Dario Vidosic would have to be content to continue in their roles as impact players off the bench.
After Adelaide dominated the opening minutes of the game, it was the Wanderers with the first shot on goal. Romeo Castelen, who had starred in Western Sydney’s Semi Final win a week earlier, fired a long distance shot that, disappointingly, flew well over the bar.
In reality, it was a disjointed opening from both sides, as they battled for control in the middle of the park and took their time to adapt to the harder, more uneven surface of the Adelaide Oval.
In the 22nd minute, though, that acclimatisation period came to an abrupt end, with Adelaide taking a hard-earned 1-0 lead. Marcelo Carrusca and Stefan Mauk combined cleverly on the left wing, with the latter releasing the former toward the Wanderers penalty area. A low ball across the box found the advancing Bruce Kamau, who side-footed the ball home at knee height past Andrew Redmayne and a stagnant Wanderers defence.
The Wanderers, to their credit, almost answered back immediately. On the counter-attack, Mark Bridge fed Brendon Santalab, whose cross to the back post was just inches from the outstretched boot of Mitch Nichols.
Minutes later, Santalab almost finished off a cross from Dimas, but his diving header looped wide of the back post.
In the 34th minute, though, Adelaide would double their advantage.
The Reds earned a free kick after Kamau was felled by Nikolai Topor-Stanley, with the defender earning himself a booking. Isaias, like he did in round 27 against Melbourne City, took the duties on himself, curling the ball over the wall and perfectly into the top corner to send the parochial Adelaide crowd into hysterics.
Craig Goodwin had a chance to make it 3-0 before the break, but after he robbed Castelen of the ball in mid field, the wing back’s shot on goal trickled comfortably wide of goal.
Adelaide came out after half time in the same mood as they went in, pressuring the Wanderers high up the park and pushing for yet another goal.
Sergio Cirio went close in the 49th minute, with his shot well saved by Redmayne low and to his right, before Bruce Djite’s shot on the turn in the 52nd minute took a deflection before bouncing away for a corner.
Popovic had seen enough, and decided to make an early change — Mitch Nichols making way for the experienced Dario Vidosic.
The change had an almost immediate impact on the Wanderers, as they pulled back a goal in the 58th minute through an unlikely source.
Castelen managed to jink the ball to Santalab inside the penalty area, with the striker’s superb back-heel finding Scott Neville. The full back, who had yet to score in his time at Western Sydney, fired the ball powerfully past Galekovic with the outside of his boot, bringing the Wanderers back into the contest.
The momentum had well and truly swung away from the home side, as the likes of Vidosic, Neville and Castelen tried to drive their team to find an equaliser.
Against the run of play, though, Adelaide almost found a third goal. In fact, they had the ball in the back of the net, only to be denied by an accurate offside call by the assistant referee.
From a 69th minute corner, the ball pinballed around the area before it somehow dribbled over the line. Replays indicated that the assistant had correctly raised his flag, as Sergio Cirio had been in an offside position and had subsequently denied Wanderers’ goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne the ability to make a play at the ball.
Popovic rolled the dice in the 78th minute by brining on Kearyn Baccus for Andreu, as his side desperately went in search of an equaliser. The Adelaide defence, like they had been all season, were standing tall, denying the Wanderers attacking forays on repeated occasions.
Stefan Mauk went close to sealing the game for Adelaide in the 86th minute, but his shot with the outside of his right boot flew wide of the near post with Redmayne scrambling.
Adelaide would clinch the contest as the game ticked into injury time, with a mistimed clearance by the Wanderers allowing substitute Pablo Sanchez to nick the ball away and charge into the penalty area. Taking a touch, the super sub fired powerfully across Redmayne and into the far corner of the net, queueing pandemonium in the stands.