Important football fan lesson: never get too far ahead of yourself. Three wins in a row for the Nix… that was something special. Fifteen goals in 270 minutes. But all against teams outside the top six. Travelling to Adelaide was always going to be much tougher task however, with the points on the board, the Nix were well poised to make fourth spot their own with a positive result here and then another one in two weeks against Melbourne City. Home semi right there for the taking. Yeah nah. Never get too far ahead of yourself.
Instead the Nix were absolute pants for the first half hour against an extremely well organised Adelaide side, getting back into the game after their hosts were reduced to ten men but unable to take their opportunities as the comeback spluttered. A 3-1 defeat. Not a whole lot of fun but it just goes to show that it’s not supposed to be easy. There are three teams in the hunt for fourth spot and there’s now only one point between them with three rounds remaining. As Perth Glory edge towards the minor premiership, as Newcastle Jets slide out of the mix, this is where it’s at right now.
Can’t get ahead of ourselves. It’s one game at a time from here on out and with an away trip to Perth in the final game this shocker in ADL probably means the home game against Melbourne City is a must-win now. Although maybe not, depending on what happens when MCI vs ADL happens next week. After all the Nix are still fourth thanks to their goal difference (cheers for that, CCM). But either way they cannot afford to lose that one, no way.
This defeat was a real snap back to reality for the Phoenix. They could have pulled four points clear of fifth and all but locked in a home semi. But that would have been getting ahead of ourselves. The Phoenix are where they deserve to be on the ladder. There really isn’t much difference between these three teams and the Nix still have plenty of weaknesses in their squad. Still, having said that, it’s all in their own hands with three games remaining so no need to freak out all of a sudden.
That whole yarn about the right back role didn’t amount to much as Justin Gulley and Tom Doyle were both still injured and Steven Taylor only fit enough for the bench so there really wasn’t much left to it. Ryan Lowry got the call. Callan Elliot wasn’t even on the bench. Not gonna pretend I was even remotely excited by that but I s’pose the logic was that we were away against a decent side who’d given us troubles in the past and the superior defensive qualities of Lowry would be more useful in a game where a draw would have been a perfectly fine result.
But then Lowry was pretty rank so I dunno where that leaves us. Still think Justin Gulley is the best bet down the line but it really depends on how soon he can return to fitness. Perhaps Elliot comes back next week as a matchup decision against a team we’d back ourselves to create a few things against (last time we played the Roar was a 4-1 win at Westpac). Best to cross that bridge when we come to it… but here’s the thing about the right back position: the entire defence looks pretty compromised these days so risks and luxuries are not too high on the availability scale.
Adelaide took the lead in the tenth minute from a corner kick. Michal Kopcynski couldn’t hang with Michael Marrone and that led to a simple free header. Even aside from the continuously mental trend of not protecting the posts (chuck a fella on the far and this was an easy clearance), seeing Kopa shrugged off like that was one more example of the Nix conceding soft goals from set pieces. Steven Taylor was on the bench for this game. No idea why because if he’s not fit enough to take the field from the beginning then he shouldn’t be risked and if he is then he should be starting. He’s too important to be the in-case-of-emergency option. And there’s no doubt he’d have done a much better job with that first goal than Kopa was able to.
Soon enough that was 2-0 when Apostolos Stamatelopoulos showed too much pace and strength for Andy Durante at the near post after Libby Cacace had been left guarding two fellas on the left. The overlap led to the cross and Antony Golec was stuck in no-man’s-land. Massive game in terms of playoff implications and the Nix were down two goals with barely quarter of an hour played.
Thing is, it wasn’t even surprising. From the opening whistle Adelaide had looked far more organised and efficient with their front three pressing hard on the Phoenix back three. Man to man and all sorts of chaos. Then their midfield trio had a man advantage too against ours and that left no space to work in. Phoenix players were constantly forced into hopeful or desperate passing options which basically only served to give the ball back to Adelaide. That Nix defence didn’t allow too much pressure in terms of shots but what few chances AU did create they scored from.
Worst of all was that they were getting out-muscled. Basically everybody not named Alex Rufer was being shoved around and that’s normally what the Phoenix do to other teams. Rufer, by the way, got a yellow card for his efforts and is now one more booking away from his third accumulation suspension. Five yellows in his last six games. If he’s smart he’ll time that suspension for the Perth game but the way he’s going he might not get that choice.
As Adelaide pressed they did leave space at the back. A couple times there was a hint that the Nix might be able to create something through Roy Krishna on the break. But just as they finally got a foothold in the game, with a ten minute spell late in the first half where they were actually able to string some passes together, they went and conceded again through Stamatelopoulos’ powerful header, which Filip Kurto so nearly made an incredible stop from but not quite. Powerful free header, I should add. Lowry was way too loose in defending the cross and Dura was caught flat-footed. More pretty rubbish defending to be honest – including from Dura who was meant to be the experienced force in a depleted line.
Luckily Stamo then changed the entire course of the game by diving in with his sprigs up straight after the kick-off and Mr VAR, our best friend, decided that a red card was necessary. Silly bugger. Funny thing about Stamatelopoulos is that he’s signed with Western United for next season (who currently have more players signed for next season than the Nix do), which means he was playing against his probable future goalkeeping teammate in Filip Kurto and possibly even his future manager in Mark Rudan. No point getting ahead of ourselves there though. Don’t wanna waste what we’ve got this season.
That red card was an absolute blessing. The Nix had played Adelaide twice previously, losing 3-1 back in November and then drawing 0-0 in early January. Chuck in the first 45 mins of this one and it’s rather clear that this is just a team that the Nix match up poorly against. Their tactics don’t mesh. They’re a bogey team. Whatever. If we can avoid them in the semis then that’d be bloody lovely, thanks.
But once they were reduced to ten men, ADL gaffer Marco Kurz switched things up to be more defensive, only bothering with one man up front as Craig Goodwin and Ben Halloran mixed it up. Mark Rudan chose not to change things at the break but instead waited to see how Adelaide reacted. As soon as he had that data he grabbed Max Burgess by the collar and hurled him on out there, taking off Andrew Durante and switching to a back four. Don’t need three defenders against one attacker. Dura’s lack of pace against the counter probably why he was chosen (not that Kopa and Golec are Usain Bolt or anythin… although Golec did train with him heaps in preseason).
Burgess had oddly been left on the bench despite his sizzling recent form, Sarpreet Singh’s performance last week giving him the tiebreaker. But as soon as Burgie got out there he immediately looked the busiest, hungriest player on the park. There was that one ball through for Sheridan which was every bit as good as the one that set up David Williams that other time, which is what I love most about Burgess: he’s not afraid to roll the dice. Honestly, I think Burgess has done enough to start ahead of Singh… but whichever way it goes there’s gonna be a weapon on the bench come playoff time.
What the Nix needed to do was score quickly to get all that momentum trending their way. Instead they struggled to break down what was a brilliant defensive shield from Michael Marrone and Michael Jakobsen. Plenty of teams would have faltered against what the Nix threw at them in that second half. A couple already have, thinking here of comeback wins over Western Sydney and Central Coast a while back. But I guess that’s the difference between playoff teams and non-playoff teams.
On came Cillian Sheridan for more than half an hour, Ryan Lowry being sacrificed and the Nix chucking all three strikers out there. David Williams, who had maybe his worst game of the season with his shooting boots apparently still in the changing room at Westpac, slid out to the right wing to make up for the lack of a right back. Hey, doesn’t always have to be a symmetrical formation. You do what you need to do. Sheridan brought some decent presence. He was strong in the air and showed a bit of nous to break the offside trap for his first Nix goal, finally, tapping in on the rebound after Mandi popped one off the post. There was a second goal from Michal Kopcynski too. But Roy Krishna was offside in the build-up and pretty sure there was a foul in there anyway. VAR upheld the call. Didn’t get any closer than that.
What a weird game, aye? First half was a clinic one way as two teams with firm ideas about structure and shape collided and the Nix were suffocated out of it. Then the red card happened and it was like an attack vs defence drill coming back the other way for the rest of the it. At one point there was a stat on the telly that Adelaide had completed just 38 passes in the second half (this was with maybe 5-10 mins remaining) while the Nix had completed well over 200. The Nix had three times as many shots. Plenty of them were off target. Some weren’t. Wellington ended the game with Michal Kopczynski and Antony Golec at CB. Adelaide won 3-1.
And with that we learned some valuable lessons:
We do not want to have to play Adelaide again this season, no thank you
The Nix are pretty much in playoff mode from here on – can’t afford another of these types of performances (unless results go right leading into the Perth game)
Ryan Lowry is not going to be the answer at right back… although the prospect of Kopa playing there is becoming more and more enticing if Taylor’s ready to start next game
Defending set pieces remains a critical issue which you can guarantee every other team around them has already picked up in their scouting reports
Turning pressure into goals is another critical issue. The Nix still rely mostly on moments of magic from Roy Krishna, Sarpreet Singh, and David Williams. None of that trio provided that spark against Adelaide, ranging from quiet (Krishna), overeager (Singh), and plain old mud (Williams). Good thing is the chances of them all having consecutive dud games under a manager who demands consistent production is extremely slim
Max Burgess is creeping into extreme prominence
Mark Rudan always makes changes after defeats so a few folks are going to struggle to hold their positions next week, particularly in the backline
There’s no need to panic
To be fair, we already knew a fair few of those things before this game. But it’s always helpful to be reminded of them.
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