As the marathon dwindles down to a final sprint, the possibility of silverware could well hinge on a single, season-defining performance.Rarely do managers find themselves leading the way in the fight for silverware in their debut season, but after less than a year in the Hyundai A-League Adelaide custodian Guillermo Amor is already starting to dream.
“You imagine things, you dream sometimes,” confessed the former Barcelona man after his Adelaide side dispatched Wellington Phoenix 4-0 a fortnight ago to make it 14 matches unbeaten, breaking a club record.
“But this situation is because the group always thinks day by day, training by training and game by game.”
It comes as no surprise that Amor was keen to downplay his side’s potential as Premiership Plate winners but it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the Wellington result was a particularly season defining moment — or at least could be — not just for Adelaide but in the context of the title race.
The team from the city of churches suffered through abject failure in their first eight rounds but the magnitude of their resurrection has been so unexpected that it threatens to embark into story of the season territory.
A win against the Wanderers tonight would be the defining chapter in that particular narrative. But Tony Popovic and the Red & Black have other ideas.
Amor and Popovic meet for the third time tonight having earned two draws in their previous meetings this season. Over 180 minutes there has been very little to separate the two sides so the next 90 will be influential in determining the fate of the Premier’s Plate.
This isn’t a straight shoot-out for the Hyundai A-League’s preliminary prize yet this match has been one circled in red pen for a variety of reasons.
In every title-winning campaign there are a series of arbitrary moments, or one moment especially that comes to define the season as a whole.
Everyone here tonight will recall Labinot Haliti’s late winner against the Central Coast Mariners in 2013 as a moment of sheer euphoria that would define Western Sydney’s inaugural premiership-winning season.
Coinciding with the club’s record ten match winning streak, the Wanderers leapfrogged Graham Arnold’s Mariners (who had sat top of the table for fourteen consecutive weeks previous) into first place as a result of Haliti’s late strike, becoming the first team to win at Bluetongue Stadium all season.
Last season, it’s difficult to look past Gui Finkler’s late brilliance against the Mariners in Round 23 as a moment that buoyed Kevin Muscat’s squad before the final month of the season. It wasn’t a pretty or convincing performance from Victory, but it was a monumental win.
Facing Wellington Phoenix the following round, who had held pole position the week before, Victory blitzed Ernie Merrick’s men 3-0 with Finkler netting after just 34 seconds. Melbourne would of course claim the double that season.
The previous campaign, it looked as though Brisbane had etched their name on the Premier’s Plate as early as Round 13 when they beat Melbourne Victory 3-0 away from home. The performance was dubbed one of the most emphatically impressive in Hyundai A-League history given the greatness of the rivalry at the time and the breathtaking manner in which Roar simply swept away a team who were ostensibly one of their closest competitors for silverware.
The Wanderers need to conjure a Premier’s Plate winning moment of similar significance to reaffirm their standing as the finest team in the country, something that galvanizes the squad before the final month of the
Titles are won or lost on such moments, and there has never been a greater need for the Wanderers to produce something of Haliti’s ilk than now with the competition’s form team on their doorstep.
The Reds keep winning and a win tonight would not only be significant in the scheme of the title race but it would give Adelaide their first ever win at Wanderland: something that would provide an immense psychological boost heading into April and the finals series.
The Wanderers themselves haven’t rediscovered the peak of their mid-season form but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern: the team knows how to grind out three points. A win, three points, and a huge, potentially season defining moment up for grabs is all that matters.
And as shown in the past, at this stage of the season it doesn’t have to be glamorous, it just has to happen.