The Football Kingz have yet to record a victory in New Zealand against opposition from South Australia in their five seasons in the National Soccer League, and that statistic was upheld by the latest team to represent the state in Australiaıs premier club competition when the teams clashed at Ericsson Stadium on December 6.
Adelaide United scored a 3-1 win over their Kiwi rivals to boost their hopes of a play-off place, while leaving their hosts firmly entrenched at the bottom of the table, any hopes of avoiding another finish in the lower reaches of the league fast ebbing with each round of results.
This latest reversal leaves the Kingz some seven points shy of eleventh-placed Wollongong Wolves, and despite the doggedness and determination of the players at new coach Tommy Masonıs disposal, that gap doesnıt look like it will reduce by too great a margin any time soon.
Both teams were in need of the points from this match, United surprisingly so, after having made such a bright start to life in the NSL. But on the first half display of both sides, you could have been forgiven for thinking that a point apiece was their collective objective.
The overall lack of genuine creativity can best be summed up by the fact that it took twenty-five minutes before either side mustered a corner! And the quality of passing, or, rather, the lack of same, had to be seen to be believed at times - it was as if the ball contained all the properties of a hot potato, such was the lack of confidence both sides displayed when in possession!!
Yet the game could have got the goal it so sorely needed inside the first forty seconds of the match - that it didnıt was due to an outstanding recovering tackle by Kingz defender Glen Collins, which thwarted Adelaideıs young striker, Mislav Saric, just as he was about to pull the trigger, having raced clear onto a probing through ball.
Saric then fired a cross-shot across the face of goal in the fourth minute, on receipt of Carl Veartıs angled pass, while play swung upfield from the resulting goal-kick, only for United goalkeeper David Scarsella to save the danger as recalled Kingz speedster Mark Beldham muscled his way past the ponderous and generally poorly performed Aurelio Vidmar - a playmaker par excellence he may well have been in his prime, but a defender he is not!!
One of Vidmarıs few moments of quality materialised in the sixteenth minute, when he sent Goran Lozanovski spearing down the right at pace with a beautifully weighted sixty-yard pass out of defence. The midfielder steered the ball into Saricıs path, but the move went no further due to Kingz defender Espen Schjerven - his was the stand-out performance in a another solid effort by the home teamıs rearguard.
Adelaide certainly werenıt found wanting when it came to taking shots at goal, but all too often they were wayward efforts. Veart, Saric and Adriano Pellegrino - until succumbing to injury, the best player on the park - all sent efforts high or wide in the last fifteen minutes of the half.
At the other end of the park, Jeff Campbell curled a twenty-yard effort narrowly past the post with the last kick of the half, minutes after Beldham had seen a similar effort saved by Scarsella, who was able to watch with some admiration just twenty-five seconds into the second spell, as his opposite number was finally required to make a save of note.
Ross Nicholson produced a beauty, too, flinging himself to his left to turn away a twenty-five yard screamer from Pellegrino, after the midfielder had pounced on a loose ball in midfield and surged forward.
The Kingz response saw Alex Midtsian produce an inspired crossfield ball which released Jason Rowley down the right. The overlapping fullback volleyed a first-time cross to the far post, where Harry Ngata was arriving on cue. But so, too, was Richie Alagich, and the defender cleared the danger superbly - how referee Peter Green saw fit to award a goal-kick given the obvious defensive intervention remains a mystery.
The visitors rode their luck, as they were to do again later in the half. This time, they thundered downfield and opened the scoring. Shane Thompson led the charge, and found Pellegrino up in support right on cue. The midfielder took the ball on in his stride, and from the edge of the penalty area produced a snorter which curled away from the diving Nicholson and ripped into the net by the despairing goalkeeperıs left-hand upright.
Only Schjervenıs intervention in the 58th minute prevented Saric from doubling Unitedıs advantage, as Pellegrino featured in a lively, flowing raid which caught the Kingz on the counter-attack. The home team had been pounding away since the opening goal in search of a prompt riposte, and got their reward on the hour.
Vidmar unceremoniously obstructed Beldhamıs charging run into the penalty area, and had the audacity to argue his case after referee Green had unhesitatingly pointed to the penalty spot. Unitedıs captain grimaced as Ngata hammered home the equaliser, high into the roof of the net.
Within two minutes, the Kingz came close to taking the lead in bizarre fashion - an Alagich clearance cannoned off Campbell and just cleared the crossbar, after Beldham had again made in-roads down Adelaideıs left flank.
The visitors rallied, with Veart heading narrowly wide from a Pellegrino corner in the 67th minute. But United looked to be on course for defeat four minutes later, when Beldham, having received a raking ball forward by Rowley, got in between two visiting defenders inside the penalty area once more.
This time, Aaron Goulding found the only way to contain the speedster was by foul means rather than fair, and as before, referee Green hesitated not - penalty! Up stepped Ngata, this time sending Scarsella the wrong way. But to the veteran Kingz strikerıs horror, the ball cannoned to safety off the crossbar, another stroke of fortune from which United went on to take full advantage.
United took advantage of the break in play resulting from the penalty to unleash their full compliment of substitutes, All White Shane Smeltz having replaced the injured Lozanovski previously. And in the 76th minute, the other newcomers, Nick Budin and Aaron Westervelt, combined with a slick one-two through the middle of the park for the former to produce a shot which Nicholson turned away superbly for a corner.
Westerveltıs delivery was cleared to the edge of the penalty area, where Budin was lurking. His shot was heading towards the target, but straight at Smeltz, who smartly used the pace on the shot to direct the ball into the net with his chest - 2-1 Adelaide, with thirteen minutes remaining.
Try as they might, the Kingz couldnıt find an equaliser - all too often the accuracy of the final ball proved to be the downfall of many a raid. So when United struck again four minutes from time, it was the death-knell for the Kingz hopes of points from this match.
Smeltz switched play superbly to Westervelt, whose shot was superbly saved by Nicholson. The goalkeeper recovered well to save Veartıs headed effort of the rebound from close range, but stood nary a prayer as Unitedıs top scorer prodded home at the second attempt.
Two late efforts from Ngata lacked accuracy, as the Kingz sought a late consolation goal, while Nicholson saved from Smeltz in between times to prevent the home team from conceding a fourth goal in stoppage time.