A new head coach, a mid-season change of ownership and a finals berth were some of the notable moments that will define Adelaide United’s Hyundai A-League 2017/18 season.
Marco Kurz arrived at the helm during the offseason with a great sense of anticipation and brought along Filip Tapalović as an assistant coach. Signings followed over the ensuing months as the Reds looked to avoid a repeat of the disappointing 2016/17 season. United got off to the perfect start in the Westfield FFA Cup, eliminating Newcastle Jets, Melbourne Victory and Heidelberg United respectively, in preparation for the season proper.
Adelaide carried that solid form from the cup into the beginning of the league campaign – unbeaten in the first three matches. A tricky test awaited the Reds in Round 1 when they travelled across the Tasman to face Wellington Phoenix. Johan Absalonsen’s ninth minute header put the Reds on level terms after falling behind four minutes earlier and it finished all square.
United registered their first league victory less than a week later away to Brisbane Roar in dramatic fashion thanks to late goals from Ryan Kitto and Johan Absalonsen. One of the Reds’ new arrivals, Vince Lia, stole all the headlines in the Round 3 2-2 draw to fierce rivals Melbourne Victory after scoring a pair of stunning long-range strikes. Days later, Adelaide gallantly prevailed past Western Sydney Wanderers in the semi-finals of the Westfield FFA Cup to book a place in the title decider a month later.
Adelaide lost the next three games, which coincided with a mounting injury toll, however bounced back with a last-gasp triumph over Central Coast Mariners. Kitto’s stoppage-time winner was somewhat overshadowed by a thunderous half-volleyed drive from Daniel Adlung to initially restore parity. Kurz’s men faced Sydney FC in the Grand Final and as heavy underdogs pushed the Sky Blues all the way but suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 extra-time cup loss.
The Reds returned to league action with a 2-0 home win over Western Sydney, inspired by Kitto’s brace. Despite another loss to Sydney and a lengthy injury list, United remained in fifth spot.
December precipitated a mixed back of results. A valiant nine-man Adelaide held on for a 2-1 scalp of old foes the Victory at Etihad Stadium for the first time since 2006. A controversial defeat followed when United conceded a questionable 89th minute penalty for an apparent handball to lose 2-1 against the Newcastle Jets. Adelaide responded with a narrow 1-0 Boxing Day triumph over Central Coast before a frustrating 2-1 setback against Brisbane ended 2017 on a bit of a sour note.
In addition to that defeat, Kurz had to do without first-team regulars Paul Izzo, Ben Garuccio and George Blackwood for the next couple of games – with the trio absent through Olyroos duty. However, Adelaide started the New Year off with a bang and produced a dominant 3-0 away win over Perth Glory.
Back-to-back draws ensued against WSW and Sydney and the latter performance received high praise as a depleted, but youthful United outfit held the reigning premiers to a goalless stalemate. Eight South Australians were named in the starting XI which contained only four players over the age of 25. The lack of experience may have caught up with the Reds, following a heavy 5-0 loss to Melbourne City a week later. But as players returned from the national team, United secured a hard-fought 1-0 success against the ‘Nix in Wellington and then mustered a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Perth.
Rounds 20-Elimination Final
After a two-week break, fourth-placed United found themselves down 2-0 and reduced to 10-men against CCM. But instead of surrendering, the hosts showed immense character and clawed their way back to 2-2 with 30 minutes left, courtesy of goals from Jordan Elsey and Blackwood. Successive losses against Melbourne and the Roar meant Adelaide had to make the most of their imminent three-game home stand if they were to wrap up a finals appearance.
Off the field, a group of investors led by Piet van der Pol acquired the Club, signalling a new era for Adelaide United prior to the first of those three home fixtures. As the end of the regular season was drawing closer, Kurz was fortunate to have a near full squad at his disposal. Absalonsen scored in a 1-1 draw to City, while the floodgates opened in the subsequent two matches. Adelaide fired five past Newcastle and slotted three goals beyond the Phoenix in front of a boisterous Coopers Stadium crowd to collect a total of seven points from a possible nine.
Two difficult road trips in Sydney awaited Adelaide for the final two rounds. A defeat to Sydney meant United had to avoid losing by three goals against the Wanderers in Round 27 or drop to sixth on the ladder. In one of the most entertaining games of the campaign, Adelaide conquered their counterparts with a 3-2 victory, quashing the hopes of WSW.
The fifth-place finish ensured an Elimination Final meeting at AAMI Park with Kevin Muscat’s side. Nikola Mileusnic opened the scoring but his clinical goal was cancelled out moments later. And as the game appeared destined for extra-time, Besart Berisha executed a sensational bicycle-kick one minute before added time to abruptly close the curtain on Adelaide’s 2017/18 season.