Adelaide United’s win over Melbourne City won’t go down as one of the greatest A-League games of all time but it did remind us of the value of finals football.
Close to a full house turned out at Coopers Stadium last night to witness Adelaide’s gripping 1-0 win over the visitors, with Ben Halloran steering home the winner with just over a minute remaining in extra-time.
The win extends Marco Kurz’s time on the touchline for at least another week, as the Reds booked a semi-final showdown with Perth Glory at HBF Park on Friday.
And it was a reminder that whatever the merits of deciding the A-League champion via knock-out football, the most intense games of the season always seem to take place in the finals.
Last night’s clash was hardly a classic but it was still gripping to watch for most of the match.
As is so often the case in football, the complexion of the game would have looked very different had the outstanding Halloran not rattled the crossbar following Craig Goodwin’s slide-rule pass barely a quarter of an hour in.
And City might have gone into the break with a lead of their own had Florin Berenguer managed to convert Shayon Harrison’s cross just after half an hour.
In other words, both teams created chances even before Paul Izzo pulled off a couple of flying saves from Riley McGree and the busy Harrison as the minutes ticked by.
And we should probably give due credit to an Adelaide United back four that kept Socceroos striker Jamie Maclaren quiet for the entire game.
Both teams looked dead on their feet by the time Craig Goodwin fired a ball into the box that was expertly held up by Baba Diawara, before Halloran beat former Reds goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic at his near post with a daisy-cutter into the bottom corner.
It wasn’t a great moment for Galekovic, who minutes earlier had spilled a Halloran shot between his legs and saw it bounce back off the post.
But it was no less than the Reds deserved, having defended resolutely throughout and surged forward whenever the opportunity presented itself.
They’ll have a tough time beating the Glory in Perth, but in truth the Reds have done well to get this far.
And whatever you think of Kurz – and the endless stream of invective he projects towards the officials is something the A-League could do without – there’s no denying he’s added plenty of colour in his two seasons on the touchline.
Could he pull off the unthinkable and spring an upset at packed HBF Park next Friday? Not likely.
But we wouldn’t be talking about any of this – full houses, edge-of-the-seat tension, extra-time winners – if it wasn’t for finals football.
Some teams do it better than others, as Melbourne Victory proved in spades in their impressive 3-1 win over Wellington Phoenix on Friday night.
How many times have we seen one key moment decide the fate of an underdog?
Mandi’s attempted pass back to Andrew Durante would have been a shocker even during their premiership campaign, but sadly for Phoenix fans it effectively cost Wellington the season.
And for all the pre-season talk about Keisuke Honda dominating the competition, it’s actually Ola Toivonen who has proved to be Victory’s best signing.
The Swede simply operates on another level and his sublime finish to seal Victory’s 3-1 win was the mark of a European-quality import.
Victory’s win sets up a blockbuster grudge match with Sydney FC at Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah next Sunday night.
Revenge much? The Sky Blues have been waiting for this chance all season.
And if the elimination finals are anything to go by, we’ve got plenty of white-knuckle football still to go.
They might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but after a weekend like that it’s hard to argue that the finals don’t continue to produce some of the A-League’s most gripping football.