Melbourne Heart coach John van 't Schip believes competition leader Brisbane Roar remain the standout A-League title favourites after his underdogs forced second-placed Adelaide United to claw their way to a 2-2 draw at Coopers Stadium on Friday night.
After conceding a goal to Marcelo Carrusca just 26 seconds into the match, the Heart regrouped and bossed the majority of the first half, scoring twice more - through David Williams (penalty) and Mate Dugandzic - to take the lead against a rattled and undisciplined Reds outfit, reduced to 10 men after the send-off of Tarek Elrich amid a flutter of bookings and fouls.
The Heart looked like hanging on until a 92nd-minute miracle from Fabio Ferreira forced the points to be shared.
Van 't Schip pointed out that his unfancied team has played out three draws in as many starts against Adelaide this season, but admits the Reds are improving and are 'one of' the big favourites.
"I still think Brisbane is the best team," he said.
"Adelaide have (made) a lot of progression this year.
"Today they didn't play their best game but I think that's also to do with the way we played.
"We dominated in the first half and created more chances.
"We matched up with Adelaide for the third time - the third time we've had a draw with them.
"Overall I think Adelaide is improving a lot and they will for sure be one of the big favourites for the playoffs."
Van 't Schip felt his side dictated the opening half but failed to capitalise on some chances to extend their buffer against the charging Reds after the break.
But the way his side fought it out for 90 minutes with one of the primary titles contenders gave the Melbourne coach plenty of heart.
"We could have made it 3-1 ... instead it was 2-2," van 't Schip said.
"I have to also say that we're out of the playoffs, but if you see the boys are motivated an putting in an effort like this, you have to see that as a positive.
"It's not that we are out of the playoffs and we are letting the league go; we are giving every opponent a tough time."
One of the shining lights out of the performance was the form of promising 18-year-old midfielder Stefan Mauk
"Stefan played a good game," van 't Schip said.
"He was dangerous inbetween the lines, creating a lot of scoring opportunities with his way of playing and aggressive in recovering balls.
"We have to take the positives out and Stefan was one of the positives.
"He has everything in him to become a very good player."