A predominantly youthful Adelaide United FC has kept finals bound Melbourne Heart to a 1-1 draw in the Reds’ final match of the Hyundai A-League season.
Sergio van Dijk’s 50th Hyundai A-League goal, which came by way of a 37th minute penalty, was cancelled out by Heart striker Eli Babalj in the 68th minute, with neither side able to conjure up a winner.
The relatively inexperienced Reds fought through until the final whistle to take a point from their final match, the result ensuring that the Reds would finish the season in ninth spot.
After the emotion and high of Tuesday night’s AFC Champions League victory over Gamba Osaka, it was always going to prove a difficult assignment for the Reds to lift up to a similar intensity in a game that had little bearing for them against a Heart side that itself had already guaranteed a spot in the top six.
With Coach John Kosmina resting a host of experienced players, he handed opportunities to some of United’s up and coming stars, Evan Kostopoulos and Jacob Melling both receiving their first starts, while Liam Wooding was yet another Youth player to figure for the senior team this season.
In a less than frenetic opening, it took until the 22nd minute for the first serious chance, Babalj glancing a header just wide of the post.
A purposeful Balabj was then on target with a fierce drive that United keeper Mark Birighitti, who was given a start in his final Hyundai A-League game for the club, did well to parry away in the 27th minute before he was called into action again two minutes later as he saved a left footed Mate Dugandzic effort.
At the other end the Reds had not bothered Heart keeper Clint Bolton in the first half an hour but in the 37th minute that all changed when referee Adam Kersey awarded the home side a penalty.
Possibly wary of Daniel Mullen’s threat in the air after the defender’s aerial display against Gamba, Simon Colosimo was alleged to have illegally felled the Reds’ number five as Cassio’s free kick swung into the penalty area.
Having gone since the end of January and seven games in searching for his 50th Hyundai A-League goal, van Dijk stepped up to send Bolton the wrong way and celebrate the milestone in his 102nd appearance.
Having showed glimpses of class in the opening 45 minutes, Dario Vidosic failed to reappear for the second half after complaining of hamstring tightness, his absence giving a chance for local 18 year old Wooding to make his senior debut appearance.
Babalj tried to inspire a Heart equaliser as he took aim from long range but again his radar was off.
In the 63rd minute a large cheer went up around Hindmarsh for the introduction of Iain Fyfe, the defender making his first appearance since returning from South Korea as he replaced Cassio, who in a terrific gesture passed on the captain’s armband to Birighitti.
A sweetly worked Melbourne counter attack almost caught the Reds out, Matt Thompson flashing a shot just over the bar.
Babalj had been a threat throughout and in the 68th minute he would not be denied as he put the Heart level, finishing off a fine individual run in the front third to give Birighitti no chance of keeping the shot from finding the back of the net.
Kosmina made his final substitution with 15 minutes to go bringing on Ricardo Da Silva in place of Jacob Melling, United’s younger and more inexperienced brigade getting a chance to show their worth.
Unlike the weather, chances dried up for the rest of the match despite the Heart pressing for a late winner and the Reds trying for their own on the counter, neither side able to add to the 1-1 score line.
With their domestic season over, all of the Reds’ attention now turns to the AFC Champions League and their match against the Pohang Steelers in South Korea on April 3.
Adelaide United FC 1 (van Dijk 37’ (pen))
Melbourne Heart 1 (Babalj 68’)
Referee: Adam Kersey
Crowd: 6,411 @ Hindmarsh Stadium
Adelaide United line-up: 20.Mark Birighitti (gk), 2.Osama Malik, 4.Jon McKain, 5.Daniel Mullen, 6.Cassio (c) (22.Iain Fyfe 63’), 9.Sergio van Dijk, 10.Dario Vidosic (26.Liam Wooding 46’), 12.Antony Golec, 15.Jacob Melling (13.Ricardo Da Silva 76’), 21.Francisco Usucar, 23.Evan Kostopoulos
Substitutes not used: 1.Eugene Galekovic (gk)
Yellow Cards: Mullen 78’
Red Cards: Nil
Melbourne Heart line-up: 1.Clint Bolton (GK), 2.Michael Marrone, 4.Simon Colosimo, 5.Fred (c) (7.Rutger Worm 75’), 6.Matt Thompson, 10.Wayne Srhoj, 13.Jonatan Germano, 16.Aziz Behich, 18.Curtis Good, 19.Eli Babalj, 23.Mate Dugandzic (11.Alex Terra 66’)
Substitutes not used: 3.Brendan Hamill, 30.Sebastian Mattei (GK)
Yellow Cards: Colosimo 37’, Srhoj 44’
Red Cards: Nil