Adelaide United came from behind twice to take a well-earned point from a 2-2 draw with Wellington Phoenix at Coopers Stadium on Thursday night, despite a late red card to defender Ben Warland.
Wellington star Kosta Barbarouses scored on either side of half-time to take his tally to six goals in his last four games for the ‘Nix, but Hiroshi Ibusuki followed suit with a brace of his own to twice haul the Reds back on level terms.
Ben Warland received a straight red card for a challenge on Oskar van Hattum in the 83rd minute of an enthralling contest in Adelaide, featuring non-stop action, goals, drama and plenty of fire.
Nestory Irankunda has spent the past three games as a substitute for Adelaide but was given a start on Thursday night, and had an early opportunity to test Alex Paulsen in Wellington’s goal. Irankunda sized up the target from range but sliced his strike off the boot as it faded wide of the target.
The Reds kept up the early pressure as Isaias cut past Ben Old to put Paulsen to work, before a neat one-two between Luka Jovanovic and Zach Clough set the former toward the byline where he floated a cross to Giuseppe Bovalina who couldn’t hit the target from the back post.
Bozhidar Kraev had the ball in the back of the net for the Phoenix in the 13th minute but a VAR check wiped his opening goal from the scoresheet; Kraev latched onto a Tim Payne cross to sweep home at the front post, and the goal was initially allowed to stand before a review which found the Bulgarian ahead of Adelaide’s defensive line as the ball left Payne’s foot.
Just three minutes later Wellington scored again – and this time the goal would stand.
Alex Rufer floated a ball to towering left-back Lukas Kelly-Heald, and his header across goal allowed Barbarouses to ghost ahead of Adelaide’s flat-footed defenders to score his fifth goal in four games.
Irankunda continued to threaten down the right wing and the energy was matched by his Reds teammates as they searched for, and eventually found, an equaliser in the 26th minute.
Clough delivered the corner, and Ibusuki converted with a convincing header past Paulsen to level it up at 1-1.
The Japanese striker had a glorious chance to make it 2-1 when a loose ball fell invitingly into his path inside the six-yard box, but a superb sliding tackle from ‘Nix defender Scott Wootton diverted the ball out for a corner.
A hotly-contested first-half drew to a close with scores locked at 1-1; referee Jonathan Barreiro adjudged Adelaide to have committed 11 fouls to Wellington’s two in the first half, brandishing yellow cards to Irankunda and Alexandar Popovic.
The home fans vented their frustration as the foul and card counts both became lopsided despite the two teams giving as good as they received throughout the opening stanza.
Adelaide head coach Carl Veart made two changes at half-time, bringing Ben Warland and Ben Halloran off his bench in place of Jovanovic and Nick Ansell.
But within one minute of the restart, the hosts once again found themselves behind – and yet again, it was Barbarouses with the finish.
The veteran took full advantage of a poor clearance from Bovalina, who attempted to control a cross with his chest, but instead put the ball on a plate for Barbarouses to rifle into the back of the net.
Despite the early setback in the second half, the Reds showed resilience to respond with a 55th minute equaliser – and after watching Barbarouses secure his brace, Ibusuki followed suit with his second of the night.
But the plaudits belonged to Irankunda who left two Phoenix players in his dust with an electrifying run down the right, picking out Ibusuki with a controlled cutback who made it 2-2.
The action following Adelaide’s equaliser was breathless.
Halloran crashed a close-range shot off the crossbar down one end, then Barbarouses called James Delianov into a smart save down the other; Delianov, standing in for Joe Gauci on Socceroos duty at the Asian Cup, did well to deprive Barbarouses of his hat-trick goal.
Then it was Ibusuki’s turn to strike the woodwork. Yet again it was Irankunda doing the damage for Adelaide down the right wing, picking out Ibusuki who fired just centimetres wide of the top corner, striking the post with his venomous shot. Isaias followed up soon after with a low, driven strike toward goal, but Paulsen tipped the ball around the post and out for a corner.
Adelaide’s hopes of collecting three points were suddenly complicated when Warland collided with Van Hattum as the Phoenix youngster launched a fast break. Van Hattum and Barbarouses had trapped Warland in a two-on-one, and as Warland committed late to challenge Van Hattum, he poked the ball into space to take body contact. Referee Barreiro produced a red card from his pocket to reduce the hosts to 10 men.
Valiantly the Reds continued to play with confidence and came so close to a third goal against the tide when Bovalina’s deflected shot lobbed toward the top-left corner. The teenager put his head in his hands as the ball drifted just wide.
For the third time in the game, the woodwork shook in the second minute of stoppage time, after Nicholas Pennington won a strong header in the box. Delianov watched as the ball bounced toward goal but it diverted off the outside of the post and away.
Sam Sutton missed a late, late chance to steal all three points for Wellington as the final whistle blew to wrap up the 2-2 draw.
The talking point
Thursday night’s 2-2 draw was yet another frustrating result for Adelaide United – and post-game, head coach Carl Veart admitted his young side are showing plenty but are admittedly missing the “magic” provided by last season’s Johnny Warren Medalist Craig Goodwin, who departed the club in the off-season.
Goodwin scored 15 goals and assisted 10 more in 2023-24 to haul his team to the semi-finals; Adelaide are missing his talismanic presence 11 rounds into the new campaign.
“I suppose it’s that little bit of magic, or that little bit of X-factor that we’re missing a little bit,” Veart told Paramount+.
“Craig (Goodwin) last season provided that a lot, and this year we’re sort of missing that a little bit. We’re still coming to terms with that, I believe.
“But saying that tonight we created a lot of chances and we just didn’t make the most of them.”
In brilliant flashes against Wellington, 17-year-old Nestory Irankunda put his hand up to show Veart he’s willing to try and be the player to lift his output and cover at least some of the attacking thrust provided by Goodwin in a stellar 2022-23 season.
Irankunda assisted Adelaide’s equaliser at 2-2 with a blistering run down the right wing, delivering on a silver platter for Ibusuki.
Paramount+ co-commentator Grace Gill marvelled at his speed and direct play. “Yet again, taking on one player, two players, backing himself,” said Gill, reviewing Irankunda’s bombing run which left both Nicholas Pennington and Lukas Kelly-Heald for dead as they gave chase before he picked out Ibusuki to finish.
But his impact stretched far further than that contribution alone; Irankunda created two chances which resulted in shots that struck the woodwork, after a first-half dribble and cutback that somehow evaded a teammate to sweep home.
Irankunda earned a 37th-minute yellow card and approached the rest of the game with discipline and maturity to become one of the most dangerous players on the park.
Reds legend and Paramount+ pitchside reporter Bruce Djite spoke post-game about Irankunda’s influence, and challenged the Bayern Munich-bound winger to show more direct running to get behind defenders, instead of cutting inside or attempting to trick his way through bodies.
“Irankunda I thought was industrious,” Djite said.
“He was on a yellow card relatively early, he kept his head, showed a bit more maturity in this game and he fed Ibusuki for that second goal perfectly.
“Very fast down the line, the little cutback, I find him much more damaging when he attacks defenders like that rather than (with) stepovers and allowing the opposition defence to get back.
“I thought Irankunda was fantastic – especially in that second half.”
This honour is shared on a night when Kosta Barbarouses and Hiroshi Ibusuki put stellar performances on show for their respective sides.
Barbarouses is rolling back the clock for the Phoenix off the back of a stellar four-game stretch in which the 33-year-old has scored six times. Wellington is without star striker Oskar Zawada but Barbarouses is shouldering the scoring load, and now sits equal fourth on the Golden Boot standings.
His two goals tonight were matched by Adelaide’s towering Japanese striker Hiroshi Ibusuki, who popped up with two big goals when the hosts needed them most. Ibusuki took his own tally to four for the season, with three of those goals coming in his last three appearances after scoring just once in the first eight rounds of the season.