Macarthur FC surged into third spot on the Isuzu UTE A-League table after a dramatic 4-3 win over Adelaide United on Monday night.
Macarthur led twice in the first half through Valère Germain and Matt Millar, but Adelaide pegged them back on both occasions, with Zach Clough and Giuseppe Bovalina finding the equalisers before Clough popped up again in the second half to fire the Reds into a 3-2 lead.
But there was to be a late twist, with quick-fire goals to Jake Hollman and Ulises Dávila swinging momentum back in favour of the Bulls late in the second half.
The Bulls bumped Adelaide out of the top four into fifth on the A-League Men table with an incredible 4-3 win in Campbelltown.
Macarthur took the lead in a seesawing first half after just eight minutes when a low, curling free-kick from the edge of the area by Clayton Lewis was poked past Reds keeper Joe Gauci by Germain.
But the home side did not hold the lead for long, with Clough putting a clinical finish on a stellar assist from Bayern Munich-bound Nestory Irankunda in the 17th minute.
Irankunda was given far too much room to collect possession and drive down the right wing, breezing past Raphael Borges Rodrigues and outmuscling Ivan Vujica before playing the ball back toward the penalty spot from the byline and finding Clough to score.
Macarthur captain Ulises Dávila followed Irankunda’s lead, providing an eye-catching assist of his own to help his side reclaim a first-half lead.
Taking the ball on the turn at the halfway line, Dávila looked up to see Millar piercing the space between a pair of Adelaide defenders, and picked out his run with a through ball played off the outside of his left foot.
Millar took the ball in his stride and finished with conviction in his 100th Isuzu UTE A-League appearance.
But there was more drama to come in an action-packed first half; Ryan Kitto played an inviting cross into the box for 19-year-old Reds defender Bovalina to attack – and he gladly obliged, thumping a towering header past Kurto to make it 2-2 shortly before the break.
Irankunda threatened to break the deadlock soon after half-time, driving down the right side of the penalty area and lashing a shot just wide of the bottom-left corner.
Clough, however, showed no such inaccuracy in the 53rd minute to score his second of the night, arriving in the box to meet a dangerous cross from Ben Halloran to finish past Kurto, who got plenty of purchase on the Clough strike but failed to keep it out of his net.
Play paused while the VAR assessed whether Halloran had strayed offside in the build-up, but the decision stood thanks to Vujica who had kept the Reds winger onside.
The drama wasn’t about to end there; Adelaide had come from behind twice to lead at Campbelltown Stadium, but the hosts struck back with less than 10 minutes to play. Their equaliser at 3-3 came from a rampant counter-attack after an Adelaide corner.
It seemed as though the chance had gone begging when Germain delayed on Daniel De Silva’s through pass, but his cross ricocheted off bodies before falling to Jake Hollman to finish.
Minutes later, Macarthur reclaimed their lead in an all-action second half. Jed Drew was the provider, and captain Dávila was the converter, sliding in to squeeze a first-time shot through bodies and past Gauci into the back of the net.
What they said
Adelaide United head coach Carl Veart has criticised his side for a “poor” performance in Campbelltown, in a game which Veart believed the Reds were never truly in from minute one to minute 90 – despite equalising twice in the first 45 and taking a second-half lead beyond the 80-minute mark.
“To be honest, I don’t think we were ever really in the game,” Veart told Paramount+ presenter Daniel Garb.
“We were very poor tonight, from the first whistle to the last whistle pretty much. Very disappointed, I don’t want to say too much more about that performance. I’ll let it settle.
“It was a lot of errors that we shouldn’t be making at this level. I don’t know whether it was concentration or a focus thing, I think we’ve got to spend a little bit of time to reflect so I don’t fly off the handle too much.
“Tonight, it’s just not a performance we’re happy about, and it’s something we need to be a lot better at, it’s something the boys and everyone at the club will have to have a good look (at), and see what we need to do better.”
Macarthur head coach Mile Sterjovski meantime was delighted, albeit relieved post-game. He had just watched his side rescind a one-goal lead on two occasions, before falling behind at 3-2 in the second half. But by full-time, the Bulls had shown the resolve to fight back from the brink with a fast finish ignited by Jake Hollman and finished off by captain Ulises Dávila, with the two midfielders turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 victory.
“It was pretty stressful, a lot of ups and downs but happy to get the win in the end,” Sterjovski said.
“I’m super proud of the boys and their mentality. We travelled overseas midweek, and to come back and prepare for this match against a very tough Adelaide team, the mentality is a lot stronger than it used to be.
“I’m super proud of them to come back in this game. I thought the boys who came off the bench really turned it on, and changed the game for us. Just super proud of the boys.”
As Sterjovski spoke to Paramount+ post-game, his players milled around Campbelltown Stadium, speaking to fans and signing autographs on the pitch. Dávila’s son, Uli Jnr even got in on the act, handing out high fives to the Macarthur faithful.
Sterjovski said the post-game scenes were indicative of what his side have been building in Campbelltown across a promising start to the new season.
“We’re still a young club,” he said. “We’re improving each week, we’re getting bigger crowds, but the main thing is to play good football, to win games, and if we continue to do that I’m sure more and more crowds will start coming.
“I think the club’s going in the right direction so I’m pretty happy at the moment.”
Dávila’s match-winner was a play drawn up on the training ground and executed with class. It began with Clayton Lewis playing short to Jed Drew, who fed the ball back out to Lewis on the edge of the area.
He shaped to cross, before cutting a pass down toward the byline for Daniel De Silva. De Silva then played an inventive backpass into Drew’s path who had continued his run into the box; Drew was made to adjust his body as De Silva stopped the ball in its tracks, but managed to pick out Dávila all alone in the box for a first-time finish.
Dávila had a goal and an assist on Monday night, and after a slow start to the season is quickly becoming one of the most impactful players in the league. Dávila has two goals and three assists to his name in his past three A-League Men appearances.