Adelaide stumbles

Adelaide United has gone down 1-0 to Shandong Luneng on match day six of the AFC Champions League in a tempermental Group H encounter at Hindmarsh Stadium on Tuesday night.

Adelaide United has gone down 1-0 to Shandong Luneng on match day six of the AFC Champions League in a tempermental Group H encounter at Hindmarsh Stadium on Tuesday night.

The visitors took the lead early in the second half against the run of play and the Reds were unable to break down the Shandong defence.

The Chinese powerhouse was stingy, stubborn and flawless in the back half despite United creating plenty of opportunities but not showing the same cutting edge that saw a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture.

With news filtering through that Pohang Steelers had come back from 3-1 down to draw level with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan, United increased its pressure late in the match.

Pohang eventually went down 4-3 in Hiroshima, meaning United goes through to the round of 16 with a home final secured.

Cassio was brilliant for the Reds with Flores again dying off in the second half as Shandong shut the Argentine down.

Matthew Leckie caused problems for Shandong but some poor decision making let the young gun down.

United was forced to make four changes to the line up with Daniel Mullen, Lucas Pantelis and Adam Hughes all out suspended and Scott Jamieson starting on the bench after his delayed return to Australia.

Nigel Boogaard was unlucky not to keep his place in the back four after a serviceable game against Pohang Steelers in the 0-0 draw on match day five, with Iain Fyfe returning from suspension.

Paul Reid and Adam Griffiths were given their first starts of the ACL campaign with Aurelio Vidmar playing them in a dual holding-midfield role.

Cassio started at left full back in place of Jamieson with Matthew Leckie also coming into the line-up in his usual attacking, wide left position.

United started well, with Flores again in promising form, orchestrating the Reds’ attacks from the heart of midfield.

The creative South American was pulling all the strings for Adelaide but is still yet to master the art of being selfish.

There were times when Flores may have been better placed pulling the trigger himself, but he opted to look for a team-mate.

His range of passing though, was again on display with plenty of flicks, back heels and inch perfect through balls searching out Travis Dodd and Sergio van Dijk.

Cassio and Leckie were combining well down the left, forging a solid partnership attacking and defending in tandem.

Shandong, though, was stubborn in defence, absorbing pressure from United and constantly in a perfect position to thwart any chance.

Flores had the first opportunity of the match in the second minute when he beautifully controlled the ball on his chest before volleying a rocket, all in one motion.

Cassio continued to get forward and with 20 minutes gone, he whipped in a cross for van Dijk, but the Dutchman couldn’t keep his header down.

Midway through the first half, the visitors should have grabbed the lead against the run of play.

Influential midfielder Roda Antar was involved and set up Li Wei with just Eugene Galekovic to beat from 15 metres. Galekovic though stood his ground as the shot was fired straight into his chest.

Reid was enjoying his first start and tore through the Shandong defence on the half hour as he beat two defenders before rifling a shot over the bar.

Flores turned on the magic releasing Travis Dodd with a cute 20 metre chip over the Shandong defence. The United captain carried the ball into the penalty area before firing a lazy effort toward the back post.

Moments later Flores pulled out another trick with a delightful back heel that again put Dodd into space.

With van Dijk waiting in the box, Dodd’s cross was again cleared and from the resulting clearance Leckie showed his frustration and lashed out at Gao Di before receiving his second yellow card in the competition, meaning he will miss the crucial, knockout round of 16 match.

Leckie almost made amends two minutes into the second half after a dangerous Cassio cross narrowly missed the head of Flores.

The young speedster almost nipped in between defender and goalkeeper but Shandong continually shut down the Reds.

Ten minutes after the break, Shandong broke the deadlock on the counter.

Wei Li took the ball on the edge of the area before baulking a sliding challenge from Robbie Cornthwaite and cutting inside to smash his shot past Galekovic.

With 20 minutes remaining, United had its best chance of the match but a lack of communication between Dodd and van Dijk ruined hopes of an equaliser.

Cassio set off on a 50 metre run before playing a nice one-two with Leckie with the little Brazilian lofting a cross to the back post.

Dodd managed to direct his header at the goal but smashed it straight into the back of van Dijk, who was also challenging for the ball.

Cassio tested Yang Cheng in the Shandong goal with a curling free kick from 20 metres in the 83rd minute. Cheng though, was equal to the task.

There was some late drama when van Dijk charged down a back pass and keeper Yang left his leg in the challenge after he had cleared it, catching the United striker.

Van Dijk responded but received little sympathy from the referee and instead went into the book himself for a challenge on Yang moments later.

Griffiths and Antar also went in the book during the five minutes of injury time for roughing each other up.

Adelaide United 0
Shandong Luneng 1 (Wei 55)
Crowd 10,313 at Hindmarsh Stadium