Off-contract top scorer’s statement performance after coach’s hint at new striker search

Catch all the highlights from Tuesday night's 3-3 draw between Western United and Adelaide United

Western United led 2-0, then trailed 3-2 before snatching a late, late point through full-back Connor O’Toole’s 94th-minute equaliser in a gripping 3-3 draw with Adelaide United on Tuesday night.

A stirring comeback performance from the Reds, inspired by two Hiroshi Ibusuki goals, saw the visitors come from two goals down to lead in the second half, when Nestory Irankunda fired Adelaide into a 3-2 advantage.

Matthew Grimaldi and James Donachie had given Western a 2-0 lead but it was O’Toole who popped up late to bring the home side back on level terms in the fourth minute of extra time as the two sides shared the spoils in a six-goal draw.

Adelaide had pulled to within three points of the top six on the live table as the game clock ticked past 90 minutes but a draw resulted in a five-point gap to sixth-placed Western Sydney Wanderers at the end of the action in Tarneit.

All teams now have two games to play in the regular season; Adelaide face Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar on the road to round out the campaign, and will need to take maximum points while hoping for other results to go their way in order to sneak into the six.

With his two goals on Tuesday night, Ibusuki took his season tally to 13 as he moved into the top five on the Golden Boot leaderboard – and past club legend Bruce Djite on Adelaide’s all-time single-season scoring leaderboard.

Ibusuki eclipsed Djite’s 11-goal haul notched in 2015-16 to sit behind Craig Goodwin (15 – 2022-23) and Sergio van Dijk (17 – 2010-11).

His performance came after Adelaide head coach Carl Veart revealed the club is in the market for a striker in the off-season; Ibusuki is coming off contract at the conclusion of the current campaign.

“We’re going to have to have a good look at our recruitment,” Veart said in the build-up to Tuesday’s clash with Western.

“We haven’t brought a lot of players into the club over the last few years, so it’s something we’re now in a position where we’ve got to have a good look at the squad going forward and maybe make some tough decisions, decisions that are right for the club.

“We need to obviously get a goalscorer (who) is always going to be up there scoring goals. Hiro has done well this year, Luka (Jovanovic) at times has done well when he’s come in. The amount of opportunities we’re creating, we need someone (who) is going to be regularly scoring goals.”

Veart was asked what his comments meant for Ibusuki’s future, to which he responded: “We’ll cross that bridge at the end of the season.

“We’ve said to a lot of the playing group we’ll wait until the end of the year, and then sit down and have good honest conversations, and work our way through it.”

Ibusuki celebrates one of his two goals netted against Western.

Ibusuki picked the perfect time to turn on the style in Tarneit, scoring twice and assisting Adelaide’s third. Post-game, Paramount+ commentators Simon Hill and Phil Moss discussed Veart’s comments and the attacking showcase from Ibusuki that followed.

“I want to push you, Phil Moss, on these comments from Carl Veart during the week which were really interesting to me,” said Hill.

“It seemed to signpost perhaps the end of the road for Ibusuki.”

“Yeah – or (Veart was) looking for a reaction,” Moss replied.

“Although he’s had a good season, he’s their leading goalscorer. Maybe Carl Veart is looking for a different style of striker. Ibusuki is not known for his pace getting in behind, but he’s been scoring goals and he comes off the frontline and brings other players into the game.

“You’d have to get a private one-on-one with Carl Veart to get his thinking behind those comments.”

Giuseppe Bovalina and teammate Ibusuki competed with one another to meet an early Zach Clough free-kick swung into a dangerous area for Adelaide, and the crossed wires led to Bovalina heading wide from close range.

Ben Garuccio had Western’s best chance of the opening 10 minutes, but was denied by a smart save from James Delianov at his near post.

A sharp attacking move from Western fed through Grimaldi, then Lachie Wales and the winger’s cut-back cross to the edge of the box led to Riku Danzaki’s smart touch and strike which cannoned off the crossbar.

Soon after Western took the lead and it was a gift from Delianov that led to the opening goal.

The Reds keeper attempted to play short to Ethan Alagich but Grimaldi swooped in to steal possession and fire into an unguarded net.

Slack defending from Adelaide led to the home side’s second goal of the night – and it was a rare strike from defender Donachie that doubled the advantage.

Danzaki was all alone at the front post to meet a near-post delivery and his flick-on found Donachie all alone to score just his fifth goal in 181 Isuzu UTE A-League games.

Then came a moment of controversy as Adelaide United were awarded a penalty before referee Jack Morgan decided to reverse his initial decision after reviewing the incident on the pitch side monitor.

Irankunda beat Western keeper Tom Heward-Belle to the ball in the box and went down under contact but after pointing to the spot, referee Morgan was advised by VAR to take another look.

But Adelaide had another shout for a penalty deep into first-half stoppage time and this time a VAR review helped the visitors earn a spot kick.

It was adjudged O’Toole had handled the ball after Zach Clough’s shot on target; Morgan returned from assessing the incident pitch side to give O’Toole a yellow card, Adelaide a penalty and set the scene for Ibusuki to halve the deficit in Tarneit.

Adelaide’s late goal in the first half set the stage for a rampant second-half comeback which began 12 minutes after the restart, when Ben Warland’s header from a corner struck the post and invited Ibusuki to brush home his second of the night from close range and bring Adelaide back level at 2-2.

Stefan Mauk flashed a first-time shot just wide of the bottom-left corner shortly after Ibusuki equalised as the Reds got well on top in Tarneit.

Adelaide didn’t let the nearly moment turn to frustration; five minutes after Ibusuki made it 2-2 the Japanese striker turned provider for Irankunda, playing the in-form teenager into the box who put the away side on top with a composed finish into the bottom-right corner.

Adelaide looked set to take all three points after Irankunda’s 62nd-minute strike but after holding the advantage for more than half an hour, conceded to O’Toole’s 94th-minute finish at the back post as the two sides settled for a point apiece.