After a week of COVID disruptions, Western United delivers the Pain to Adelaide United.

If nothing else, Western United is consistent. Despite losing three players to positive COVID tests and having their preparations sent into chaos, John Aloisi’s side was on the right side of a 1-0 scoreline for the fourth straight week against Adelaide United on Friday evening; temporarily going back to the top of the A-League Men (ALM) table and extending a run that has yet to see them concede from open play.

It was not, however, a triumph free from controversy: Ben Halloran denied what would have been a 53rd-minute equaliser after referee Kurt Ams spurned an opportunity to play advantage and blew play dead for a Léo Lacroix foul on Craig Goodwin just moments prior to Halloran’s chipped strike.

Reds players, as well as coach Carl Veart, were incensed in the aftermath but their appeals fell on deaf ears, leaving Connor Pain’s 44th-minute goal the difference between the two sides come to the end of the 90 minutes.

Aloisi would say post-game that Halloran’s strike mayhaps wouldn’t have found its way past keeper Jamie Young had his side not eased off on the whistle, but Veart cut a vexed figure post-game.

“I had a good view of it because I was in that direct line and the referee looked,” said the 51-year-old. “So he saw that the ball was going to Ben Halloran and then he blew the whistle.

“He’s made a mistake. I’ve asked him afterwards and he said he’ll have a look and he’ll apologise if he’s made a mistake, which doesn’t help us, does it?

“It’s the inconsistencies this season that has been far too out there. I know [the referees] haven’t had a coach for a while. But the coach that’s just been appointed, he’s got plenty of work to do. Because the inconsistencies that we’re having every week, it shouldn’t be there.”

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Pain, however, won’t much care about Veart’s complaints; the in-form winger’s second goal in as many games sealing Western their longest winning streak in club history.

It was a strike that was also delivered after his club lost one player mid-week to COVID and then, in an announcement posted to their website moments before kickoff, confirmed that a second and third player had tested positive for the virus — one returning a positive result on Thursday and the other the day of the game.

All other members of Western’s playing roster and staff returned negative tests after a second round of PCR testing on Thursday but the adjustments the cases forced were obvious: 36-year-old Nikolai Topor-Stanley lining up as a left-back in Western’s four-player defensive front.

“With the week that we had to deal with… what he had to deal with, that just shows the spirit of the team and the club,” Alosi reflected.

“We followed all the right protocols and then it’s unfortunate. We knew this could happen… training had to change times, you’re not sure if you’re going to play the game or not play the game but the club worked tirelessly in the background, the players remained focused and showed their character because we had to fight

“At this moment in time, we’re not able to play football that we want to play with the ball [due to the absences] but we are showing great qualities in how we defend as a team and be structured and we know we will get better. I can’t be more pleased with the playing group and the club because that’s four wins in a row. The club never achieved that.”

Aloisi declined to name the Western players that have tested positive but said that they were feeling well and messaging the team.

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For Adelaide, however, Pain’s strike shone a magnifying glass on one of their biggest shortcomings across their first visit to Melbourne during the 2021-22 season: an inability to exploit the emergency deployment of Topor-Stanley.

Despite the veteran not exactly being known for his prowess on the ball, Adelaide repeatedly failed to force their foes to attack down his side when they sought to move the ball from defence to attack; Pain’s goal delivered when Lachie Wales shrugged off a challenge from Isaias on the right and, after a couple of nice moves to lose Juande, found Pain on the edge of the area.

There were similar frustrations in approach when Adelaide looked to get out and attack; it taking until the 66th-minute introduction of Bernardo Oliveira, and the move of Halloran into a centre forward position, for the Reds to consistently isolate the right-side of their attack and run directly at Topor-Stanley.

The 17-year-old son of Reds’ legend Cássio almost turned provider on what would have been a late equaliser in the 86th minute when he found Stefan Mauk on the edge of the Western penalty area, only for his captain’s resultant shot to flash just wide of the post.

Ryan Kitto would have a further opportunity to tie things up when the ball fell to him in the penalty area in the 93rd minute, only for Young to produce a strong save with his leg.

Further compounding the club’s problems in attack, Veart acknowledged that striker Kusini Yengi, who was injured in training on Thursday, appeared set for an extended period on the sidelines.

“I know he went and had his scans today and the first diagnosis is that it doesn’t look great,” said the Reds boss.

“He’ll be out for an extended time. How long that is I’m not 100% sure so we’ll have to maybe have a look in the January transfer window to look to bring in a striker because that’s what we’re lacking at the moment: we need someone that can score goals. The club will have to have a good look to see if we can find a striker.

“We’ve got an FFA Cup game coming up. And then we lead into January where there’s a lot of games in January. So, we’ll have a little bit of time to regroup, have a good look at our performances in the first five games and work on those areas that we need to improve on.

“Because I’m happy, generally, with the way we’re playing — we’re just not scoring goals. That’s the main thing in this game: you’ve got to score goals. So we just have to keep knocking on the door and it will come.

“The boys effort tonight was tremendous. I think the style of football was good, it’s just the final ball.”

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Header Image Credit: Western United

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