The one-horse race for the A-League Premiers’ Plate drew to a close on Saturday with a 1-0 win to Brisbane Roar over Melbourne Victory turning out to be the denouement, with three rounds still to play.
It looked set to end all square until Luke Brattan found space within his scoring range and struck in extra time.
Despite only a late goal to show for it, an enthralling contest was provided throughout as both teams sought to be positive and attack - unsurprising, but a breath of fresh air nonetheless. It was all the more admirable as neither side had their best XI’s on the park, with names like Jade North, Ivan Franjic, Besart Berisha, Adama Traore and Archie Thompson missing or coming off the bench.
Neither side’s approach changed and, as both are nigh unbeatable when at their best, at times they cancelled each other out. Victory started well, keeping Brisbane at bay while creating and stringing together forward passes through midfield. Mark Milligan, Adrian Leijer and Lawrence Thomas provided the strong spine early on and showed Brisbane that it was going to be a tougher task than they may have thought.
Victory’s speed did catch Brisbane out at certain times, but there were occasions where you thought a goal from the hosts was just moments away. Call it ‘the Victory way’ if you will, the blue and whites don’t do normal. It provided entertainment aplenty, as both sides were unrelenting in wanting to play their way.
Momentum swung wildly throughout but to neither team’s avail, not that it was for lack of trying. Both teams’ defences stood tall. For Brisbane it was ex-Victory man Diogo Ferreira playing his part as he made tackle after tackle and went toe-to-toe with Thompson, Kosta Barbarouses and James Troisi.
Brisbane’s midfield, much like its whole line-up, is well balanced and flexible. On Saturday, Liam Miller provided the classy touch, Matt McKay provided the legs and Brattan chipped in with the grunt work as well as some silk on the ball. That didn’t allow Tom Rogic much time or space to get into his game, a battle within the war on the night.
Victory picked up where they left off from their midweek ACL clash with Yokohama, staying resolute and more practical while not taking away from their strengths. Milligan led by example again, as he continued to make the crucial tackles and distribute the ball forward, it did help that the skipper was assisted by James Jeggo.
On the final Victory training session on Friday, it was interesting to see Jason Geria and Scott Galloway pulled aside for an extra drill with Thomas - who would play the ball out wide either long or short in their direction – as they went on to play the ball out quickly. Thomas wasn’t shy in aiming for just that on Saturday either. It was clear that Kevin Muscat was trying certain things and aimed to deviate somewhat. In an admirable effort, what let down the side was the decision-making in attack.
The winner was spectacular, especially given the timing and circumstances, but could have been avoided by Muscat’s men. Victory appeared to be tiring and had seven players scattered around the edge of the penalty area. As Brattan sauntered forward with no marker, the unsung midfielder took his time and fired a shot low past Thomas. Cue pandemonium and relief.
Whether or not you believe the ‘first past the post’ system is what the A-League should adopt, you couldn’t deny Brisbane their moment. They took charge early in the season, didn’t let go and remained head and shoulders above the rest. Thankfully the decision-makers at the club didn’t heed the #MulveyOut crew’s advice. Where is that banner now? One can only wonder.
For Victory, there would be a renewed belief within the playing group that they can go and win the title from here. After all, these best pure footballing teams in the A-League were close to inseparable and it took something special from Brattan to split them. Victory’s results over the past month have been far from awful. If Muscat continues to adjust what ought to be, it will hold them in good stead.