Bittersweet for Reds

Adelaide United stand-in coach Joe Mullen has expressed his relief after the Reds secured a home final in the AFC Champions League round of 16 despite a 1-0 loss to Shandong Luneng in their final group match at Hindmarsh Stadium.

Adelaide United stand-in coach Joe Mullen has expressed his relief after the Reds secured a home final in the AFC Champions League round of 16 despite a 1-0 loss to Shandong Luneng in their final group match at Hindmarsh Stadium.

With news filtering through that Pohang Steelers had fought back from 3-1 down against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan to level the scores midway through the second half, United appeared set to relinquish top spot and the home final.

In an ironic twist, Sanfrecce eventually sealed United's fate by scoring a fourth goal late in the match ensuring Pohang finished second and the Reds remained top of Group H, with the two sides fighting for top spot upstaged by their opponents who had nothing to play for.

"The result is disappointing on the night, but the good thing to come out of the night is we finished top still," he said.

"We lost the game, which is the bitter bit about tonight, but the positive is over six games we finished top of the group and it gives us a home final on May 12, that is the good thing."

Mullen revealed that only the coaching staff were aware of the progressive score between the Steelers and the Purple Archers, saying it had no impact on the way United went about its business.

"We knew what the scores were throughout the whole game," he said.

"Of course once they scored we knew it was 3-1 at half time to Sanfrecce, and then to hear it was 3-3 it wasn't good news. But, again, over six games we finished top, we beat Pohang and quite deservedly go through to the round of 16."

"Nothing was said to the players. The players didn't know anything about it, they didn't want to know about it, they were unaware of the score. They wanted to win the game and that's what it was about for us tonight."

Mullen said that ultimately it was United's inability to find the back of the net that cost them the game with periods of sustained pressure yielding little reward for the Reds.

"It was a game that I thought we dominated really, but it's a game where you need to score goals, especially in this league. We didn't do that and we lost the game," he said.

"They did hit us on the break. We had the momentum and in the first half I think they only had one chance on goal. Although we conceded we still had plenty of time after that but we just couldn't capitalise."

The former Socceroo heaped praise on defender Cassio, with the Brazilian turning in a best on ground performance.

The pocket rocket was lively down the left covering enormous ground, whipping in crosses and taking on players in slithering runs.

The stunning display from the samba king couldn't have come at a better time for United with young speedster Matthew Leckie set to miss the round of 16 match after receiving his second yellow card of the tournament for cynically lashing out at Gao Di late in the first half.

"I thought Cassio was superb." Mullen said.

"His offensive movement, although he was playing in a back four, was amongst the best we've had in the Champions League campaign. Some of the delivery into the box was good, it's just a shame we couldn't capitalise. His work rate was good, his ability to get past players was excellent and of course we'll want more of that on May 12."

"We will miss Leckie. He's been very good and his speed and his dribbling puts defences on the back foot. He will be missed, no doubt."

Marcos Flores was also instrumental in the first half for the Reds, again pulling the strings for United in a performance that displayed his full range of passing including a glorious 20-metre dink over the top of the defence and a mercurial back-heel that sent Travis Dodd in behind the back four.

Shandong though, shut the silky playmaker down and again the Argentine faded out in the second half and didn't appear to cope well with the double teaming from the visitors.

Mullen though was quick to jump the import's defence, saying that Flores does an enormous amount of work off the ball and will need a full pre-season under his belt before he can consistently run out a full 90 minutes.

"He does a lot of work, work that you don't see, you probably only see him when he's on the ball," he said.

"He hasn't had a full pre-season under us and that's a little bit unfortunate. He'll be better off I think for not only this campaign, but for the next HAL after a good pre-season. We've already seen a good Marcos Flores and I think he can get better."