|By CHRISTIAN MAMMONE
Adelaide United assistant coach Michael Valkanis described the Reds' 2-2 draw with FC Bunyodkor in their AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg at Hindmarsh Stadium on Wednesday as feeling like a loss.
Adelaide raced to an early lead in the opening minutes when winger Iain Ramsay slotted home a wayward Dario Vidosic shot, before doubling their advantage barely 10 minutes later when forward Evan Kostopoulos turned in a loose ball from a corner.
The hosts continued to pepper the visitors' goal but were brought undone when defender Nigel Boogaard was sent off as the last man for pulling down Bunyodkor striker Kamoliddim Murzoev as he ventured in on goal.
Jasur Khasanov then curled the resulting free-kick into the top corner shortly before half-time, before substitute Shavkat Salomov punished the hosts late in the second half for some poor defending with a simple tap-in to equalise and snatch a draw for Bunyodkor.
Bunyodkor return to Uzbekistan for the second leg on October 3 with two vital away goals.
Valkanis, who is filling in for the unlicensed John Kosmina in the ACL, said the mood in the dressing room was dour after surrendering a two-goal lead.
The 38-year-old also felt Boogaard's red card was a costly game-changer for the Reds.
"It did feel like that [a loss]... the boys obviously knew how well they did for the first 40 minutes and they know they probably could have finished it off and had one foot into the semi-final," Valkanis said.
"The red card didn't help - it changed our whole game plan.
"We wanted to head into half-time not conceding a goal and being a man down changed the complexion of the game.
"That's football for you, things can change very quickly and we obviously conceded a free-kick we should have avoided."
While the team was disappointed not to come away with maximum points, Valkanis said he remained upbeat ahead of the second leg in Tashkent.
"We had played extremely good, attacking football and possibly could have had four or five goals, so we are still very positive and looking forward to going over there," Valkanis said.
"It's been a long time since we've had a competitive game that really means something, so it was always going to be tough for us, but we are sure we can get a result in Uzbekistan."
Adelaide skipper and goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic supported Valkanis' belief, and said that a similar first-half performance with 11 men on the pitch will help the Reds to progress to the final four of the competition.
"The boys are obviously disappointed... but the way we played in the first 35 minutes was sensational," Galekovic said.
"With 11 players we outplayed them so we will take the positives out of that and look to score to get a result over there."
Bunyodkor coach Mirjalol Qosimov admitted his side were grateful for Boogaard's red card and now had impetus ahead of the return leg.
"The red card was a help for us," Qosimov said.
"Of course it is a plus that we scored two away goals but it doesn't mean we can relax in Tashkent."