Monday, 22 March 2004 12:00 AM
Adelaide United 2 South Melbourne 1
ADELAIDE UNITED surged into the NSL preliminary final after coming from behind to clinch an emotion-charged win in extra time against prolific finals contender South Melbourne.
Defender Richie Alagich drove home the golden goal winner in the 13th minute of extra added time from the penalty spot after the teams finished level after 90 minutes.
Referee Simon Micallef awarded the heart-breaking penalty kick against South Melbourne defender Steve Laurie for pulling the shirt of substitute Michael Brooks.
It was the final nail for courageous South Melbourne which played with 10 men after half time when defender Sam Poutakidis was red carded for lashing out at United's Fred Agius seconds after the half time whistle.
Former Olyroo Ross Aloisi launched a second half United comeback with a 20m drive that cannoned in off the post to cancel out an 11th minute strike from South striker Michael Curcija as United made 10-man South Melbourne pay.
Alagich kept his cool to end the battle with a rocket of a penalty to ice the tie and thrill a record Adelaide NSL crowd of 16,558.
Recharged, South Melbourne looked like the winners in the first half, leading after punishing a rare blunder by United captain Aurelio Vidmar.
Curcija started the clinical counter attack as Vidmar missed a header and Con Boutsianis set him up for the Olyroo's 13th goal of the season.
Kiwi international Vaughan Coveny had two great chances before half time to make it tough for United, but punched a diving header wide and keeper David Scarsella blocked his low shot in the 19th minute.
Adelaide found it tough to crack South's mean defence until Poutakidis clashed with Agius and was sent off on the advice of linesman Craig Durkin.
Industrious Aloisi got a pass from Nick Budin to rifle in his fourth goal this season and set up a nervous finish for 10-man South which sent on defenders to shore things up.
But super sub Brooks conjured up the breakthrough in the first period of extra time as he passed wide for Aaron Goulding to cross, but his shirt was tugged by Laurie and referee Micallef firmly pointed to the penalty spot.
South Melbourne coach Stuart Munro insisted both pivotal refereeing decisions were tough on his team. "I thought both (the send-off and the penalty) decisions were very soft," he said.
"I don't even think the ref saw the incident.
"He just reacted to the players' appeals around him, but I don't want to harp on this as it only takes the gloss away from the great efforts of Adelaide United and the huge crowd.
"I thought we deserved better after a great first half in which we should have scored at least two on our chances created."
South players surrounded referee Micallef after the match to protest about the penalty decision.
Meanwhile, Adelaide coach John Kosmina was just relieved to go through on the strength of his outfit's late burst.
"We defended too deep and let South play too much before half time," he said.
ADELAIDE UNITED 2 (R Aloisi 71m R Alagich 103m pen) bt SOUTH MELBOURNE 1 (M Curcija 11m) in extra time at Hindmarsh Stadium. Crowd: 16,558. Referee: S Micallef.
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