McGree the last-gasp hero as Reds advance
ADELAIDE United's dream of an unprecedented hat-trick of FFA Cups is alive after Riley McGree's last-gasp winner booked a final date with Melbourne City at Adelaide's Hindmarsh Stadium.
United dug deep to secure a dramatic 2-1 victory over 10-man Central Coast Mariners in their last-four clash in Gosford on Wednesday night and advance to its third-straight decider.
McGree's 90th-minute winner settled a gripping contest, after George Blackwood had squared the ledger for the visitors.
Earlier, Jack Clisby's freak free kick midway through the second half had put the hosts in the box seat, before Mariners captain Matt Simon was sent off for a second yellow card.
The gutsy triumph booked United's place in the October 23 final at Hindmarsh Stadium, which would be played on home soil as determined by the post-match venue draw.
It also spoke volumes for the character and desire of the Reds under new coach Gertjan Verbeek.
But it looked like a different story after 62 minutes.
Clisby's set piece from wide on the right swung in and evaded everyone to sail into the far corner of the net.
Simon made a nuisance of himself in front of debutant goalkeeper Isaac Richards, but it was not a moment the young shot-stopper would look back on fondly.
The match swung 18 minutes from time when Simon received his marching orders after catching Jordan Elsey with a stray elbow in an aerial contest.
Adelaide made Central Coast pay immediately.
Substitute Nikola Mileusnic made a jinking run down the left and got to the byline, before cutting an inch perfect ball back for Blackwood to fire home.
The Reds took full advantage of the extra man at the death, when Elsey played a pass through the Mariners' midfield.
Kristian Opseth, making his starting debut, delightfully flicked the ball into the path of the onrushing McGree and the Gawler Eagles product steadied, before rolling in a calm finish.
Earlier, a goalless first half was not without incident, as both sides created chances and the hosts were fortunate to keep XI players on the pitch.
Verbeek sprung a selection surprise, opting to hand a first start to 20-year-old custodian Richards in place of the ill Paul Izzo.
Teenage goal scoring sensation Al Hassan Toure threatened early for the Reds, zigzagging into the area but firing his shot straight at Mark Birighitti.
Central Coast came closest to breaking the deadlock on 20 minutes.
A dangerous Tommy Orr cross from the right was palmed away from danger by Richards only as far as Jordan Murray.
The front man recycled the ball for Samuel Silvera to head goalwards, but the impressive Elsey did brilliantly to divert the effort on to his own cross bar and away to safety.
McGree was denied by Birighitti, before tempers flared just shy of the break.
Former Adelaide keeper Birighitti claimed a corner under pressure from Blackwood and lashed out at the Reds forward.
His swinging elbow just missed Blackwood's chin, but he was lucky to avoid further punishment.
Excellent work by Toure on the right early in the second period set up Norwegian striker Opseth, whose lunging effort beat Birighitti but hit the post.
Richards then stood tall to deny Murray with a fine save as the end-to-end action continued, but was left red faced by Clisby's opener soon after.
Blackwood clipped the bar with a curing shot, before Simon saw red and Adelaide levelled two minutes later.
McGree hit the side-netting with one chance and blazed another over the bar.
But the Australian under-23 star, who returned to his hometown club this off-season, held his nerve when it mattered most to become the Reds' hero.