Finals berth comes at a price for United

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Adelaide United’s gripping 2-2 draw with Melbourne Heart has come at a cost with just one round remaining before the 2014 A-League Finals Series kicks off.

A suspected broken leg to Michael Marrone and a straight red card to Tarek Elrich leaves United’s defensive stocks in short supply as they aim to secure second spot on the ladder.

Action-packed fails that did justice to the match saw the Reds open the scoring inside the first 30 seconds.

The Heart found their way back through a David Williams penalty before Behich and Elrich clashed with the United man seeing red and conceding a second penalty, (this time saved by Galekovic).

Dugandzic’s left-footed volley put Melbourne in front until the 92nd minute when Fabio Ferreira rescued a point for Adelaide to guarantee a finals berth.

United coach Josep Gombau was ecstatic on the sidelines as his side equalized, sprinting onto the pitch and sliding on his knees into his waiting playing group. The Spaniard told his team to enjoy the feeling of securing finals football.

“We are in the finals and I think that’s a good thing for us,” Gombau said.

“After the first 10 weeks nobody expected us to make the finals… we need to be happy and enjoy this,” he said.

Heart coach John van’t Schip was pleased with the purpose his side showed despite there being no chance of finals football for the red half of Melbourne.

“I’m very happy with the effort because we are out of the finals but you can see the intention they put in,” van’t Schip said.

Gombau said that the fightback of his players and their ability to compete for a full 90 minutes was the most pleasing part of the match.

“I am happier about the way we played more than the point we earned. I am so happy for the way that we played, for the attitude of the players,” he said.

“Even if we didn’t earn a point and we lost I would be happy with the way they played,” Gombau said.

The Reds got off to the best possible start as Marcelo Carrusca fired home after just 26 seconds.

From United’s kickoff, the Heart pressed high trying to force the turnover but left themselves wide open at the back when a long ball from Galekovic and flick-on header from Elrich broke through the lines.

Elrich’s header fell to Zullo who used his pace down the wing to force the Heart back. Elrich charged down the outside of Zullo and received the ball from the wingback before driving to the byline and hitting up an open Marcelo Carrusca who slotted an easy finish to stun the visitors.

In the 23rd minute Elrich saved United as a sly through ball from Engelaar unlocked the Reds’ back four. Aziz Behich managed to round Galekovic and attempt a low shot from a tight angle but Elrich covered the keeper to clear the ball on the line. Unfortunately for the United utility, his night was all downhill from there. 

The Heart found their way back into the match after 32 minutes when a foul on Mauk by Elrich put David Williams on the spot. The frontman made no mistake despite Adelaide’s protests and would have a man advantage less than five minutes later as Elrich saw red for an off-the-ball incident, clashing with Behich to concede his second penalty of the night.

Fortunately for United, Galekovic managed to palm Williams’ shot away and keep the match level at one apiece.

With an extra man on the pitch Melbourne began to take hold of the match and entered the break with a 2-1 lead thanks to Mate Dugandzic. With the ball played in from the left flank Nigel Boogaard’s attempted clearance deflected into the Heart winger’s path whose left-foot volley blasted under Galekovic to the dismay of the home crowd.

Despite being a man down United had chances to equalize in the second half with substitute Elsey rattling the crossbar and Jeronimo firing wide as the clock ticked down to full-time.

The introduction of Awer Mabil put Adelaide on the front foot with time running down. Consecutive corners for the Reds had the 13,000-strong crowd hoping for a dramatic headed goal from captain Galekovic however it was a more conventional goal which would send the crowd into raptures.

Carrusca robbed the Heart of possession in midfield and exchanged a one-two with Djite before playing in Mabil down the left flank. The youngster was composed enough to fire a low ball across the face of goal with his non-preferred foot to the waiting Fabio Ferreira who ensured the points would be shared come full-time.

Adelaide sit tentatively in third place above the Wanderers on goal difference, however the Red and Black Sydney-siders have a game in hand and will face Brisbane at home on Saturday. The Heart face the Wanderers next week while United travel to Newcastle to take on the Jets.

Gombau will be hoping Melbourne can get a result to put the Reds into a top-two position and secure a double-chance safety net.

Adelaide United: Galekovic, Marrone, Boogaard, Malik, Isaias, Cirio, Carrusca, Djite, Zullo, Elrich, Ferreira

Subs: Neumann, Mabil, Izzo, Elsey, Konstandopolous

Melbourne Heart: Wielaert, Engelaar, Murdocca, Williams, Behich, Hoffman, Garruccio, Velaphi, Mauk, Dugandzic, Kisnorbo

Subs: Redmayne, Gerhardt, Ramsay, Germano, Kalmar

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