‘Not sure I agree’: Two Reds greats challenge coach’s summary of late collapse against Bulls

Adelaide United v Macarthur FC - Highlights | Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 | Round 24

A Nestory Irankunda stunner wasn’t enough for Adelaide United as the Reds threw away a one-goal lead to lose 2-1 to 10-man Macarthur FC at Coopers Stadium on Friday night.

Adelaide led through Irankunda’s latest highlight-reel strike and a second-half red card to Macarthur defender Yianni Nicolaou put the hosts in the box seat to take three points – but Ariath Piol and Tommy Smith both struck against the run of play within four minutes to give the away side a shock 2-1 lead.

But there was more drama to come at Coopers Stadium as referee Ben Abraham gave a stoppage-time penalty to the hosts after a VAR check; with first-choice penalty taker Zach Clough no longer on the pitch, Irankunda put penalty-taking duties on his shoulders but was thwarted from the spot by Filip Kurto as the Bulls escaped with all three points.

The end result was tough for Adelaide to swallow after taking 25 shots to Macarthur’s nine and holding a one-man advantage for a large chunk of the second half.

Post-game, Veart said his side played “too many sideways and backwards passes” instead of pushing for a second goal – a point Reds legends Robbie Cornthwaite and Bruce Djite challenged on the Paramount+ post-game show.

“It’s tough to take,” Veart said. “But it sort of sums our season up. We didn’t make the most of our opportunities we created and the second half we couldn’t keep possession of the ball. Too many sideways and backwards passes, and that’s what we get… we just weren’t good enough scoring the goals tonight and then we didn’t defend our box well enough in our last 10 or 15 minutes.

“It didn’t go against us, it was on our own (doing). Instead of playing the ball forward we started playing balls backwards, back to our goalkeeper instead of trying to go and win the game with a second goal, we sort of relaxed and started taking it easy.”

In response to Veart’s comments, Cornthwaite questioned whether Adelaide had attacked “too much” – rather than not enough – while holding their 1-0 lead late in the game.

“It is a little bit of a broken record from Carl, because it is the same story all year,” Cornthwaite said.

“I’m not sure I agree with the fact that he felt like they weren’t going forward and they were passing the ball backward too much and sideways too much. They were constantly causing problems, they were constantly in the box creating opportunities.

“Maybe the final pass wasn’t quite there or the right option at the end of it but I don’t think you can say they didn’t attack enough – I think they probably attacked a bit too much towards the end.”

“25 shots? That’s a lot of attacking,” Djite added.

“It’s a lack of quality at the end of the day. It’s that ability to do what Nestor did in the first half on a regular basis… something’s just missing there, and that’s been the case throughout the whole season despite Nestor having moments, Ibusuki having a decent season in front of goal. It just hasn’t been consistent enough.”

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Irankunda took just 20 minutes to break the game open in a flash of his brilliance when he fired Adelaide into a first-half lead.

The winger collected the ball out wide, sized up Macarthur full-back Ivan Vujica and lashed a low, driven shot into the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box.

“Oh my word – that is what they came to see tonight… goodness me, that is a peach of a hit from Nestory Irankunda!” Said commentator Simon Hill as the 18-year-old wheeled away in celebration.

“It brought both me and (co-commentator) Daniel McBreen out of our seats. What a talent. What a goal!

“Wow. Bayern Munich might’ve paid top dollar in Australian terms, but I tell you what: they are getting a bargain!”

Irankunda almost made it two on the half-hour mark from a similar spot, albeit closer to goal – but a deflection off the strike, plus the outstretched arm of Macarthur keeper Kurto, denied the teenager a brace.

The Reds finished the first half on the attack and Ethan Alagich was the next young gun to threaten Macarthur’s goal with a shot from distance. The midfielder unleashed and Kurto scrambled as the ball cannoned off the crossbar and out.

Macarthur started brightly in the second half but Adelaide midfielder Isaías posed a threat to the visiting side’s goal with a first-time effort, set up by Irankunda, which Kurto safely gathered.

But the Bulls had a foothold in the game and started to threaten Adelaide’s goal with greater frequency.

Lachie Rose got in behind the Reds’ defence but goalkeeper James Delianov sprawled at his feet to palm the ball away from goal. Jed Drew collected the rebound but couldn’t convert as Nick Ansell headed clear inside the six-yard box.

Stefan Mauk had a close-range shot saved by Kurto and Kearyn Baccus’ open header down the other end received the same treatment from Delianov as the action swung from one end of the pitch to the other.

Soon after came Nicolaou’s red card that, at the time, further enhanced Adelaide’s hopes of taking three points from the Bulls.

Referee Abraham used the pitch side monitor to review the incident which initially earned Nicolaou a yellow card for making contact with Irankunda’s face with an outstretched arm as the Bulls defender attempted to shield the ball.

Abraham returned to the field of play and upgraded the initial caution to Red as Macarthur went down to 10 men with 15 minutes to play.

Adelaide tried to take instant advantage after the send-off. Irankunda hit the side netting and Luka Jovanovic called Kurto into yet another save as Macarthur held on by their fingertips at Coopers Stadium.

It looked as though there’d be no way back to parity for Macarthur until academy product Piol came off the bench to stun the Coopers Stadium crowd.

Valère Germain provided a deft assist and Piol did the rest, scoring his first A-Leagues goal in just his second game to bring Macarthur back on level terms.

Just minutes after restoring parity, the 10-man Bulls had a second as Smith launched at the back post to head Daniel De Silva’s cross past Delianov and put his side into a stunning 2-1 lead.

Referee Abraham awarded a late penalty to the home side, finding a handball in the box from Macarthur defender Tomislav Uskok after a VAR review – but Irankunda couldn’t capitalise. His attempt was saved by Kurto and cleared by the Bulls as the final whistle confirmed a stunning win for Mile Sterjovski’s side on the road.