A last-ditch 92nd-minute Sergio Cirio goal allowed Adelaide to overcame a poor start and fight out a come-from-behind 2-1 triumph over 10-man Western Sydney Wanderers at steamy Coopers Stadium on Saturday night.
An upset looked on the cards when the Wanderers dictated proceedings in the first half and secured an early lead through Labinot Haliti.
But the Reds played with renewed vigour after the interval, switching to a three-man defensive formation and equalising through Bruce Djite in the 51st minute.
The home side then took advantage of Matt Spiranovic's 83rd-minute red carding when Sergio Cirio, who had missed a couple of sitters, redeemed himself with the clincher in extra time, allowing United to finally shake the visitors.
WHAT THEY SAID
“I think the whole team played very well, we missed a lot of chances but we got the three points and I think we deserved to win… Today at half-time we were losing and we changed the formation and I think the changes worked really well.” – Adelaide United forward Sergio Cirio
“The last two weeks, last week in Newcastle away from home and again tonight away from home we got punished and it hurts. We’re not ready to give up obviously as we’ve showed the last two weeks away from home. The belief is there. – Western Sydney forward Labinot Haliti
0-1 Haliti (19')
Nikitia Rukavytsa's curling entry from a set piece was knocked away by Eugene Galekovic, into the path of Santalab on the corner of the box. Santalab whipped it low to the back post where Haliti, in his 150th game, managed to stay fractionally on-side and had the free tap-in into the bottom right corner.
1-1 Djite (51')
Marcelo Carrusca pinched possession from Juric in the middle and pumped the ball forward where Brendan Hamill inadvertently impeded Wanderers custodian Ante Covic, allowing Djite to pounce and rifle a well-placed, long-range equaliser from the top left corner of the box.
2-1 Cirio (90'+2)
Tarek Elrich's sprinted down the left flank and slid through a ball to Craig Goodwin, whose excellent cross fell to Cirio who, after shanking some earlier opportunities, made no mistake with a strong strike from a few metres out.
Adelaide were charging hard for the deadlock-breaker when Spiranovic handed them a lifeline with a foolish send-off when he earned his second yellow in the 83rd minute. Spiranovic and Pablo Sanchez had an altercation which led to Sanchez hitting the turf and referee Peter O'Leary reaching into his pocket and grabbing red.
OPTA DAYA KEY STAT
The last time these two teams played here, just prior to Christmas, the Reds won in a canter and Western Sydney, amazingly, didn't even scramble a single corner.
This time the Wanderers chalked up two corners inside the first 90 seconds, showcasing their considerable improvement and clearly demonstrating that they meant business.
Brendon Santalab sustained an injury to his troublesome shoulder in the opening minutes but his brave attempt to soldier on was ultimately fruitless and he was replaced by Tomi Juric in the 34th minute.
For the hosts, Malik was left anguishing and clutching his right leg after coming off second-best in an attempted slide tackle, which forced him to exit at half-time.
THE FINAL WORD
The Reds may have started poorly and waited till the absolute death before clinching three points against the bottom-placed team, but it was more than enough in their continued press for a top-two berth on the ladder. A back-up victory in this Friday night against Melbourne City will further substantiate United's claims.
The Wanderers were far from disgraced and have been ultra-impressive since returning from Asian Cup duties and are well placed to throw everything at Sydney FC in derby action next Saturday.