Adelaide United proved why they will be a threat in the approaching A-League finals after a sterling performance against Wellington Phoenix on Sunday night.

For 45 minutes, Adelaide United were a force transformed, swarming forward and unable to be bridled by the Phoenix defence.

All season the question has been: can Adelaide score enough to be a genuine title contender? For these 45 minutes, Adelaide offered an ominous answer to that question.

A front three of Ben Halloran, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos and Craig Goodwin provided a rarely seen vibrancy to United attacking third as they harried and hustled Wellington’s defenders into cheap turnovers.

Even more importantly, they finished when it mattered.

“A very effective first-half, it was a good game from us, our structure was not what we expected but what was very good was the goal scoring today,” said Marco Kurz.

“Our decision was to play four at the back and maybe a centre-back has to drop to the outside position… in the offence, I was sure we’d have more speed in our offence than Wellington that was our whole goal that maybe we can create good moments.”

Just as everything seemed to be clicking for United, Stamatelopoulos received his marching orders for a late, rash and high challenge on Phoenix midfielder Mandi. Just when the strike force was beginning to sparkle, United lost its jewel in the crown.

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But rather than being a costly blow, it may just have been the forging of a team primed for finals football.

Stamatelopoulos’ exit signalled a change in style, with Adelaide aiming to conserve their lead rather than ramp up the pressure to coerce Wellington into submission.

It wasn’t one for the neutral as United sat everyone back into a defensive position, countering Wellington’s often expansive play by engulfing the Wellington’s attacking third with a weight of numbers that made space a rare and valuable commodity, blunting the creative forces of Sarpreet Singh and Max Burgess who are primed for movement and speed.

The incident forced Adelaide to re-adapt its initial pressing style into something more primitive, with an eye on maintaining defensive stability, Kurz admitted.

“The game-plan was clear, our goal was to press them high but you can’t when you play only with 10 men, then our decision was to play four at the back, four in the midfield and one fast player, Ben Halloran and also on the left-side with Craig Goodwin for counter-attacks,” he said.

“I cannot press with 10 players you must drop back.

“It’s always not too easy to stay high but I confer with that you must find a way that every ball back you must push up a bit with the back four line.

“But it’s easy to say because it’s hard work when you see all-around only white jersey and you have to defend,” Kurz said.

Mark Rudan acknowledged post-game that Phoenix players had gone off script from the pre-match plan.

“It’s simple things…we asked them to play quickly but they played slow,” he said.

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Which is true, Wellington looked bereft of ideas or purpose as United sat back an invited the Phoenix to take the initiative, which resulted in the Phoenix recording 14 shots while United conceded possession 37 per cent to 62 per cent and amassing 22 clearances.

The main knock on Kurz’s tenure has been that Adelaide is functional rather than ferocious and lacks the cutting-edge which would make it a contender, essentially, the eternal question of whether it is an unyielding defence or an unrelenting offence that wins titles.

And, through two very contrasting halves, Adelaide demonstrated a clear ability to balance the two facets of the game when previously it felt like it was either one extreme or the other. That should serve them well come finals time.

Feature Image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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