Adelaide United showed character and endeavour to defeat Melbourne Knights by the odd goal in seven at Somers Street in a deferred third-round fixture on Sunday. United had already played once on the weekend, and was required to battle a tenacious Knights' combination for its win.
All but one of the goals came in a pulsating second-half, and even that one came after the forty-fifth minute.
"We got a bit sloppy - fatigue was a bit of a factor," said United coach John Kosmina following the game. "But the 250 supporters who came over (from Adelaide) helped us."
"We gave Adelaide a bit of a fright," said Knights coach Ian Dobson after the game. "And I'm sure next week we're going to give Brisbane a bit of a fright too."
United took the lead from Richie Alagich in first-half added time when a scoreless half seemed more likely. But after a barren first half, the second half burst into life. Goals from Daniel Vasilevski and Nick Marinos and an unconverted penalty from Andrew Marth inside the first eight minutes of the second period saw the momentum swing decisively in Knights' favour.
But Ross Aloisi and Michael Brooks scored twice in quick succession shortly after to regain the lead for United. When Carl Veart made it a two-goal lead with a goal seven minutes from time, United's win seemed certain.
Marinos set United nerves a-jangle with a nintieth minute goal, to bring the margin back to one, but time expired without further scoring.
The action hadn't finished however, as in the game's last seconds, Brooks and Roddy Vargas were engaged in some off-the-ball action of their own which boiled over and involved a number of other players before order was restored.
Adelaide United was chasing a six-point weekend after having disposed of South Melbourne in Adelaide on Friday night, and take a massive step to ensure its participation in the Finals.
Carl Veart had initiated the first cheers of the night with a fine diagonal ball for Nick Budin to run onto clear of the Knights' back-line. Budin had time to pick his spot, but Knights' goalkeeper Vilson Knezevic is a giant of a man and was quick to make a block, and allow Daniel Vasilevski to clear by conceding a corner.
Anthony Pelikan had Knights' first opportunity with a marvellous solo effort on a break, gaining possession inside his own half and then going on a mazy run past three challenges and into a shooting position at the left edge of the penalty-area. With Knights' supporting players arriving, Pelikan elected to attempt a chip over United goalkeeper David Scarcella, but insufficient elevation meant it was an easy take.
The two sides' packed midfields meant that there was little time and space either team could create. Adelaide United was also compressing play by bringing up its back-line and catching Knights offside on numerous occasions.
Marth was imposing himself at the heart of the Knights' defence and his clash with Budin was an enthralling battle. At one point it exceeded sporting limits and required the intervention of the referee, who was inclined just to discuss the matter with the pair, rather than display a card. Marth's competitive nature was mirrored by his team-mates who had collectively played with considerably more effect than in the previous week's disappointingly passionless Melbourne derby.
"We spoke as a group after last Saturday," said Dobson. "(This week) they showed the passion and commitment was there, and I'm very pleased with them."
David Terminello was creating some of the better Adelaide moves and ten minutes before the break crossed low into the six-yard box where Veart and Knezevic both met it at the same time and watched as the ball went only narrowly past the post.
Serkan Oksuz had a shot out of nothing after Alagich misjudged a cross from the right which he couldn't reach, but which fell for Oksuz to volley with his left foot, only to see the ball flash across the face of goal.
As first-half added time was almost out, Adelaide United took the lead. Terminello had found himself in a useful shooting position and feinted to do so, instead spreading the ball wide to the right. Alagich had sped into position and crashed a right-foot shot under Knezevic and into the net.
But within twenty minutes of the re-start, the game had comprehensively changed character. The signs were there just a minute after the return when Goulding was adjudged to have fouled Oksuz in the penalty-area giving Knights the chance to equalise from the spot. The usually reliable Marth saw Scarcella down smartly to block, and a Knights' follow-up came to nothing.
Knights' heads did not drop however, and in an exciting four minute period, it had taken the lead. Pelikan had set up the first with a fine cross to Vasilevski who launched himself at the descending ball to smash his header into the net. Then Marinos outsped a square United back-line to face only Scarcella. Scarcella was able to block the first shot, but it rebounded handily for Marinos to side-foot home from six yards.
The offside trap that had been working well in the first period was starting to unravel in the second.
"We'd spoken about Adelaide playing offside as part of their game-plan," said Dobson. "(Our) youngsters up front were very na´ve in the first-half. (But after) half-time, we got just rewards for that."
Eight minutes later, the complexion of the game had swung again as United first drew level, then regained the lead in this ever-changing game. Knights could consider itself unfortunate as this period coincided with the absence for treatment of defender Steve Pantelidis, and an injury to Knezevic, both substituted shortly afterwards.
After some tight play down the right, the ball squirted inside to where Aloisi stood, some 25 metres out from goal. Aloisi crashed his shot into the net past Knezevic's dive to the right.
"Ross probably isn't the most consistent clean striker of the ball," said Kosmina. "But the one that hit the target went in - it came at a crucial time."
Then Brooks - who had only just entered the fray as a replacement for the well held Fred Agius - crashed his right-foot shot past the hapless Knezevic.
Veart netted Adelaide's fourth with just seven minutes left, coolly rounding substitute goalkeeper Tommy Tomich after a solo run, seemingly settling the fixture.
Fa'arodo thought otherwise. Bursting through another failed offside trap, he ran to the right of goal, awaiting Scarcella's approach, then squaring inside to Marinos who side-footed home from eight yards to put the game back in the balance.