There are few moments in football that those involved can look back and be truly amazed. Taking an out-of-sorts lower league team and defeating the reigning top flight champions. Scoring a goal to save the game with the last kick before full-time. Standing on a pitch as an entire stadium around you erupts in cheers of utter jubilation. Last night, in the clash between Redlands United and Adelaide United at Perry Park, we got all three.
Heading into the game, few people – myself included – could have expected an upset. Redlands United had fallen out of form over the past two months, with two wins in seven since their victory over Rochedale Rovers in the last round of the FFA Cup. This saw them slide from second, two months ago, to fifth and what appeared an uphill task to make finals football this season. This was contrasted by Adelaide United, who won the Hyundai A-League Grand Final in their previous competitive fixture three months ago. Change had been afoot at the champions though, with key striker Bruce Djite among others departing the club since then.
Once the game got underway, Adelaide set out to demonstrate their strength as they pushed Redlands back into their own half. Benjamin Garuccio tried his luck from long range before being denied by a defenders leg, before successive corners provided Adelaide further chances that resulted in a header over the goal. One of the main turning points in the game occurred as Iacopo La Rocca suffered a cheek injury in the Redlands penalty area from an innocuous clash with Grant Brix, which resulted in him being stretchered off. He would end up being replaced by Mark Ochieng. Minutes later, Adelaide had their best chance of the game when Jesse Makarounas had a free kick from 25 yards. His strike from the left of the goal was aimed at the bottom corner, but Redlands goalkeeper Brendan White got down well to save. Adelaide attempted repeatedly to run at the Redlands defensive line but this proved to be a mistake, as almost every time the back four stopped their run. This was contrasted by Redlands, who preferred to make attacking breaks down the flanks. Redlands would end up with a chance of their own ten minutes before half-time. Russel Woodruffe would find himself in space 12 yards out from goal, before shooting narrowly over the net. Both sides went into the half-time break locked at 0-0.
Adelaide very quickly announced their intentions to attack early in the second half, as Tarek Elrich tried his hand from 30 yards but failed to hit the target as it went narrowly wide of the goal. Adelaide continued to push forward in the second half, with roughly two-thirds of the ball, and attempt to break down the defence. Redlands dropped back and defended deeper, and yet again their backline was able to deal with every half-chance that Adelaide created. Eventually, Ryan Kitto would be able to break the deadlock. After an unfortunate deflection off Michael McGowan, Kitto found himself in space on the edge of the area, before shooting low and beyond Brendan White for the opening goal. Redlands would end up finding themselves down to 10 men temporarily as Grant Brix was sore after a challenge on Kitto, one which Brix was booked for. Thankfully for Redlands, only a McGree header wide of the goal from a corner threatened their goal during this period of time. Redlands began to push forward and work the goalkeeper as the game went on. Michael Lee would end up delivering an extremely threatening cross into the box which Eugene Galekovic gratefully clasped. The home fans, in full voice throughout the night, began to grow restless as the fourth official revealed three minutes of added time. Grant Brix managed to step around two defenders before having his cross blocked. Moments later, with the last play of the game, Redlands United would do the unthinkable and find an equaliser. After an exploratory chip forward from Redlands, Eugene Galekovic found himself stranded outside of his box. Retreating inside to pick the ball up, Galekovic fumbled the ball and made contact with a defender, which gifted Michael Lee the opportunity to walk the ball into the back of the net. With the last play of the game, Redlands had done the unthinkable – they’d drawn level. The fans let the players know what that meant to them, as a gigantic roar filled the stadium.
Extra time awaited the two sides as they were locked at 1-1. Redlands United looked the better side in extra time and that paid off for them as they found a second goal. A ball into the box by Michael Lee was expertly laid off by Tyler Bradley-Combe to Paul O’Brien in open space, who shot home from close range. Redlands United had the lead, but Adelaide United were not done pushing forward. Jordan O’Doherty saw his shot deflected over, before Jordan Elsey hit the crossbar. Tarek Elrich would go on to sting the palms of Brendan White with his close range shot, but that was it in the first half of extra time. Redlands United knew they needed to hold on for just fifteen minutes in order to upset Adelaide United. Early on, Jordan O’Doherty had a shot from inside the area but was off balance and skied his shot. Jesse Makarounas found some space on the edge of the area but his shot went wide. By this point, Redlands had dropped right back and were playing ten men behind the ball. The crowded space around the penalty area started to stretch as Adelaide continued to push. Isaias had a chance from 25 yards with a free kick but it went straight at Brendan White. Redlands did push forward when on the ball looking for a third goal. This nearly paid dividends when Michael Lee found space on the edge of the box but his shot wasn’t hit well enough. Late on, Isaias would manage to pick out Jordan Elsey who shot wide from close range.
Tension filled the air in the stadium in the final seconds until the referee blew his whistle. Not that you could hear it in the grandstand over the explosion of noise. Fans and players alike celebrated like they’d won the World Cup. On this night, at least, it may as well have been. Redlands had played superbly. Their resolute defending throughout the match was praised after the game by their coach Matt Chandler, who also applauded their ability to play for each other and have each other’s back. That was ultimately what won them the game. For Adelaide, the loss of Bruce Djite cannot be overstated. After having two thirds of the ball, Adelaide struggled to seriously threaten Brendan White’s goal, with the absence of anybody to finish the positions they found themselves in. For Redlands United, their focus will turn now to their PS4 NPL Queensland clash with bottom-placed Northern Fury as they look to get their finals push on track. Coach Matt Chandler suggested his side would win their final three games following this result. For Adelaide, they now have two months to prepare themselves for their A-League title defence.