Adelaide United climbed into second place on the Hyundai A-League standings on October 22, but they were given a genuine fright by the New Zealand Knights before prevailing 4-2 in front of 11,600 fans at Hindmarsh Stadium.
The home team were expected to win this match as they pleased against the bottom-of-the-table team, and were doing so until switching off when three goals to the good. Within six minutes, the Knights had reduced that deficit to a single goal - netting their first goals in ten hours of football in the process - and an unthinkable comeback looked very much on the cards.
Such a situation had been inconceivable in the first half, when Adelaide had made light of the six changes to the Knights line-up to dominate their Kiwi-based rivals. Jason Spagnolo was a constant source of trouble on the left for the home team, and in the fifth minute his first-time cross, on receipt of a Carl Veart pass, picked out Nathan Burns, whose looping header hit the top of the crossbar.
Spagnolo had a go himself moments later, scything in from the left before lashing a low drive narrowly wide of Danny Milosevic’s right-hand post. He should have done better, to be honest, but so should Adam Casey at the other end of the park in the tenth minute, after he had been picked out by a Gregory Duruz free-kick. The Knights’ striker’s header flew wide.
Back came Adelaide, with Spagnolo gifted possession by Che Bunce, who made amends for his blunder by getting back to block the midfielder’s shot on the run to safety.
Veart and Bobby Petta both went close before Adelaide finally prised open the Knights’ rearguard in scoreboard-changing fashion in the 22nd minute. Veart slipped Spagnolo in on the left, and his delightfully weighted cross into the near post area picked out the fast-arriving figure of Burns, who duly touched the ball home past the wrong-footed Milosevic to the delight of the local faithful.
The home team were denied what looked a stonewall penalty three minutes later, as Bunce climbed all over the back of Veart as a Spagnolo cross came in. Instead, referee Angelo Nardi ruled in the Knights’ defender’s favour.
After Burns had fired wide following a Petta free-kick which hadn’t been cleared, Adelaide doubled their advantage ten minutes before half-time. Spagnolo was again involved, this time picking out Petta, whose delicious lobbed pass sent Veart spearing through the offside trap. The veteran marksman held off the challenge of Bunce before firing home past Milosevic.
Straight from the kick-off, the Knights charged downfield, with new signing Fernando de Moraes setting up Richard Johnson for a stinging twenty-yard effort which warmed the gloves of United goalkeeper Robert Bajic.
The home team’s goalkeeper was grateful to defender Michael Valkanis six minutes later, as Malik Buari got the better of Adam Van Dommele and fired in a cross to the near post intended for Casey.
On the stroke of half-time, the Knights were back on the defensive again, Greg Owens and Petta linking on the left this time. The former Celtic man gave Neil Emblen the runaround before whipping in a cross for Burns to exploit. It never reached the striker, however, due to the timely intervention of Duruz.
The second half started sluggishly, Adelaide seemingly content that they had done enough already to secure the spoils against a side for whom scoring goals is far from their forte. But after Veart had been harshly penalised when beating Milosevic in the air to get on the end of a Van Dommele cross, the gloves came off.
In the 56th minute, United carved the Knights apart to score a marvellous third goal. Owens fed Burns on the edge of the penalty area, with the striker’s reverse pass putting Spagnolo in on the left. His low, first-time cross zoomed towards the near post, where Petta was sliding in to steer home a super goal, despite the attentions of Milosevic and Bunce.
Within two minutes, Veart had been denied a fourth goal by the offside flag, after which Owens dragged a shot wide of the mark after evading two challenges.
Either side of this effort, Jonathan Richter and Casey had both seen shots grabbed by Bajic, as the Knights began to come into the contest. But Adelaide weren’t done with yet, with Mathew Kemp twice going close just after the hour mark, the failure of his first attempt to find the target owing much to Milosevic’s anticipation in narrowing the angle.
The Knights stunned the locals - not to mention those watching on the other side of the Tasman! - in the 65th minute, as they scored their first goal in 608 minutes of A-League football!! It came about from a long Darren Bazeley throw-in, which Emblen flicked back at the near post. Substitute Noah Hickey pounced on the ball, his drive deflecting into the net off Kemp.
Having caught the bug, they got another one six minutes later which rendered the natives silent. Malik Buari’s corner ricocheted into the net off the head of Van Dommele, as he attempted to head clear from Hickey at the near post.
From 3-0 up and cruising, Adelaide were suddenly looking over their shoulders at opponents who had their tails up and nothing to lose. And for the next ten minutes, the Knights pounded away in search of an equaliser, but not before the home team had hit the woodwork at the other end of the park.
Veart caught de Moraes in possession and thundered forward before unleashing a screamer which zoomed past Milosevic and hammered against the post. Burns, following in, was powerless to divert the rebound on target, such was the speed at which it cannoned back at him in the 71st minute.
Cue the charge of the Knights brigade! Casey lashed a shot over the bar after Buari’s cross hadn’t been cleared. The striker then saw Bajic tip his near-post effort round the post in the 75th minute as the home team’s defence continued to show frayed nerves.
De Moraes was next to threaten, before a neat move sparked by Casey saw Bazeley play a neat one-two with the new recruit before thrashing his shot inches past the post.
Back came Adelaide, bolstered by some tactical changes called by coach John Kosmina, whose suspension from the sidelines meant he was watching proceedings from the stands.
Bunce twice blocked shots within seconds, much to the annoyance of Bruce Djite and Ross Aloisi after Travis Dodd had powered down the right and pulled the ball back eleven minutes from time.
Five minutes later, a by now decidedly nervous Adelaide put their nerves at ease with a splendid counter-attacking goal. With the Knights hot on attack, Veart stepped in to clear and picked out Djite. His lay-off found Aloisi charging into the visitors’ half, and with options to left and right of him, Adelaide’s captain opted to use the scorer of his team’s first goal of the night.
Burns, raiding down the left, strode on to this measured pass and flighted over a first-time cross beyond the covering defence. Timing his run to perfection was Dodd, who directed a stunning fifteen-yard header over Milosevic and into the top far corner of the net - a brilliantly conceived and executed match-winning goal.
Straight from the kick-off, the Knights charged downfield, only for Duruz’s cross to cannon to safety off Richter. It was their last chance, as Adelaide concluded proceedings in the ascendancy, Burns and Djite twice going close in the minutes which remained.
The final whistle brought an end to a boisterous encounter, one which left Adelaide in second place but only after having been given a mighty scare by the cellar-dwellers, who will take much heart from this showing, even though it means the Knights are now well entrenched in bottom spot.