Adelaide United ended their recent form drought just in time for the Hyundai A-League finals and in emphatic style by thumping lethargic Melbourne City 4-1 at Coopers Stadium on Saturday night.
Two goals in the space of four minutes to Spanish pair Miguel Palanca and Pablo Sanchez were followed by a sensational piece of individual brilliance by Anzac Medal winner Tarek Elrich in the 33rd minute as the Reds relentlessly ran rings around City.
Substitute Cameron Watson slotted a penalty - his first A-League goal in 105 matches - to make it 4-0 before Melbourne got one back, belatedly, courtesy of an Aaron Mooy penalty.
Both camps were left playing with 10 men for the last 20-plus minutes after the back-to-back second-half send-offs of Kew Jaliens - for his shove on Goodwin - and Michael Marrone, for an ugly studs-up challenge of Erik Paartalu.
With finals coming up, the Marrone red-carding was the only real downer for United, while City have considerably more worries after copping such a hiding.
1-0 Palanca (19')
Skipping around City skipper Patrick Kisnorbo, Sanchez charged into the box and dished it nicely to Palanca, who struck his maiden A-League goal with a low, hard hit past Tando Velaphi from a tight angle.
2-0 Sanchez (23')
Sergio Cirio forced an athletic save from Velaphi but the Melbourne keeper's parry rebounded out to Sanchez, who volleyed the follow-up sweetly into the back of the net.
3-0 Elrich (33')
A contender for goal of the season, Elrich gathered the ball from around the halfway line and proceeded to weave a magical path past four City defenders with a stunning solo effort. Socceroo Elrich's finish was quality too, beating Velaphi all ends up from six yards out.
4-0 Watson (59')
Having just substituted into the contest, Watson surprisingly stepped up to the spot after Jonatan Germano brought down Craig Goodwin in the box to concede a penalty.
Watson comfortably slotted the goal but referee Kris Griffiths-Jones made him take the shot again as Cirio encroached into the box. The sequel was struck just as coolly by Watson, comfortably beating Velaphi.
4-1 Mooy (65')
Mooy was unintentionally dragged down by Bruce Kamau in the area to earn a penalty.
Former Western Sydney Wanderer Mooy stepped up to take the shot and drove it past Eugene Galekovic with typical class, denying the Adelaide custodian a clean sheet.
Melbourne fluffed an opportunity to halve the 2-0 deficit and thus give themselves a fighting chance in the 29th minute.
Galekovic spilled a routine save and the ball bobbled away from his grasp and landed nicely in the path of Germano.
Inexplicably, the diminutive Argentinean blasted a terrible miss from point-blank range and with it went any chance of Melbourne salvaging something in a night of wreckage.
Elrich's magical goal not only set the Hindmarsh crowd alight and gave the Reds an unassailable 3-0 lead, its dazzling nature evoked memories of Diego Maradona's famous 'Goal of the Century' in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City when the Argentinean legend scooted 60m past four England opponents and scored a cracker.
While obviously not on the same grand world stage, Elrich's movements and finish were no less spectacular.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Though it had no impact on the result, Bruce Djite's 32nd-minute miss was a moment he'd like to forget.
Bruce Kamau beat his man easily and laid one nicely to Djite who, enduring a barren, goalless stretch and seemingly down on confidence, fluffed his footwork and missed the open tap-in from three yards.
THE FINAL WORD
The contrast between the way United and City enter the major round couldn't be more stark.
The two teams might do battle here again next week, this time in elimination finals action, depending on what happens tomorrow when Wellington Phoenix host Sydney FC.
A Phoenix win or a draw would see the Reds and City face each other, again while a Sky Blues victory would mean Adelaide will host nemesis Brisbane Roar and John van 't Schip's men will travel to New Zealand to take on Wellington.
: Galekovic (c), Marrone, McGowan, Malik (Warland 69'), Pablo Sanchez, Cirio, Djite (Watson 56'), Goodwin, Palanca (Smith 77'), Elrich, Kamau
: Chapman, Paartalu, Mooy, Novillo (Symeoy 69'), Koren, Germano (Mauk 65'), Kennedy (Williams 60'), Hoffman, Velaphio, Kisnorbo (c), Jaliens
Palanca (19'), Sanchez (23'), Elrich (33'), Watson (59' pen), Mooy (65' pen)
Jaliens (66'), Marrone (70')
: Palanca (29'), McGowan (35'), Malik (61'), Hoffman (77')
: 14°C, cloudy