Western United traded blows with Adelaide United but the A-League 2020/21 season opener remained deadlocked in captivating 0-0 draw in Geelong.
Reds forwards Tomi Juric and Ben Halloran came closest to breaking the stalemate, watching their shots swiped off the goal-line, while returning Green and Black captain Alessandro Diamanti thrilled the returning GMHBA Stadium faithful and proved to once again be the home side’s danger man.
Five Adelaide players made their first competition starts for the club and six of the starting XI were aged 23 or younger, but Carl Veart’s newly-assembled side controlled the opening half with 17-year-old Yaya Dukuly impressing for his hometown team while Socceroos ace Juric was denied by Tomoki Imai’s last-gasp block.
Mark Rudan fielded a more familiar line-up, with eight players named that started in the 2020 Semi-Final four months ago, but Western United could only flash in moments with talismanic captain Diamanti combining well with ex-Barcelona midfielder Victor Sanchez and speed demon Dylan Pierias causing problems throughout the evening on the home side’s right.
Following a frantic opening 45 minutes, the second half began more guarded but spaces opened up as players tired and Halloran’s low strike forced Western United’s Aaron Calver into another goal-line clearance while Connor Pain was thwarted by Reds keeper James Delianov, flawless against his former club after leaving the Victorian outfit one month ago.
This contest was not one without its flash points, with nine yellow cards dished out in a clash of high intensity. Ultimately, both sides were determined not to lose an encounter which produced 13 goals from their two meetings last season, but neither could find a winner on opening night.
With Daryl Braithwaite belting out classic hits ahead of kick-off, the 16th annual serving of A-League football had a big-match feel as teenage debutant Dukuly showcased his talent on the Reds right wing with a quick turn of pace and rifled shot straight at home keeper Filip Kurto.
Adelaide settled into their stride fastest as captain Michael Jakobsen’s hooked volley sailed over the bar and Ryan Strain missed the target with a long-range effort, before the hosts fired a warning shot when speedster Pierias’ angled drive tested ex-Western United gloveman Delianov.
Calver’s bullet header made Delianov stretch again on 21 minutes but the away side’s chemistry continued to grow with Juric providing the most threatening moment of the opening half, lifting the ball over an onrushing Kurto following Jordan Elsey’s pass, only to see his attempt cleared off the goal-line by Japanese defender Imai.
Diamanti sprung into life five minutes before half-time, slamming a close-range half volley at Delianov’s out-stretched hands. A breathless first 45 minutes packed with end-to-end action, and sprinkled with occasional dust up, rolled into a more measured second half, with Juric once again taking aim but dragging his 25-yard shot wide on 51 minutes.
An ineffective Besart Berisha was replaced by 17-year-old Western United debutant Ayom Majok on the hour mark as weary legs became heavier, but the game once again burst into life with Ben Halloran’s goal-bound 12-yard shot was cleared away by Calver before Connor Pain broke free and forced Delianov to parry away his 69th-minute effort.
Both teams had their moments in a lively final 10 minutes, with Reds substitute Mohamed Toure almost battling his way through a congested penalty area as the clock ticked down while Diamanti’s last-gasp deflected effort spun away from the lurking substitute Ivan Vujica as Western United were forced to begin their sophomore season with a share of the points.
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