Brisbane Roar capped a divine 24 hours by locking in the most unlikely finals berth with a dramatic 3-2 win over Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium on Saturday.
The result, in conjunction with Perth Glory's expulsion from the finals for salary cap breaches, has allowed the previously seventh-placed Roar to rise from the ashes and keep their title defence alive.
Serbian striker Andrija Kaluderovic got the visitors on the board in the 26th minute before Reds keeper Eugene Galekovic conceded an own goal in clumsy, farcical fashion shortly before half-time, completely demoralising the hosts.
Defender Jack Hingert added further salt to the Reds' wounds with his maiden A-League goal early in the second half but the Reds refused to die.
Craig Goodwin rubbed one off the deficit in the 71st minute before Pablo Sanchez slotted a fortuitous penalty in the dying seconds after Daniel Bowles was red-carded in the area in the 94th, but it was too little, too late.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We’ve struggled every time we’ve had the chance to take top spot but credit to Brisbane they did well in the first half and took their chances. In the second half we dominated, we had them camped in their own half but in the end we didn’t do enough to get the points.” – Reds defender Nigel Boogaard
“Very happy with the performance by us. Everyone in our team was very professional in how we approached the game today and it’s a good three points for us. It keeps us close to Melbourne City and hopefully we can close that gap and give ourselves a chance to finish in the top six." – Roar captain Matt McKay
0-1 Kaluderovic (15')
A lovely Jean Carlos Solorzano through-ball landed in the lap of Kaluderovic who, one-on-one with Galekovic, easily poked it past the Adelaide keeper's left hand for Brisbane's opening goal against the flow of play.
0-2 Galekovic og (41')
The normally reliable Reds custodian had an absolute howler, thudding back to earth with a bang after his heroic match-winning performance in Sydney last week.
Misjudging the flight of the ball during a Roar forward thrust, Galekovic watched helplessly as the ball bounced high over his head before miscuing as he tried desperately to get boot to ball in an attempt to evade the lurking Solorzano, before finally knocking it into his own net.
0-3 Hingert (54')
After being played in smartly, Hingert, perhaps the most unlikely goalscorer on the park, pounced and rifled it home near-post past Galekovic, who moments earlier had sent his clearance straight to the Brisbane right-back. It was the English-born Hingert's first-ever A-League goal in his 86th game.
1-3 Goodwin (71')
Presented with his second wide-open goal of the afternoon, Goodwin made no mistake this time with a simple finish from a low, single-touch Cirio cross after Isaias's looping ball over the top.
2-3 Sanchez pen (90+4')
Daniel Bowles was given his marching orders for felling Nigel Boogaard in the box, although the United defender appeared to be off-side. Pablo Sanchez stepped up and coolly slotted the spot kick for Adelaide's second, just seconds out from full-time.
Adelaide fluffed what should have been a routine equaliser in the 34th minute.
Bruce Djite's close-range attempted bounced off the upright and nicely into the path of Goodwin, but instead of pushing it home, he tried side-footing the ball while slightly off-balance and inexplicably missed from mere inches away.
From that point on, it was always going to be uphill battle, particularly when the deficit soon stretched out to three goals.
With the Roar having just taken a 3-zip lead, it would have been easy for the visitors to start feeling good about themselves and become momentarily complacent and relaxed.
Djite sought a quick reply with a 55th-minute rifle, only for his attempt to be magnificently saved by the diving Jamie Young.
Brisbane's intensity and passion never wavered despite Adelaide getting two back late.
OPTA DAYA KEY STATS
The Roar have now won seven of their last nine head-to-heads with United. Meanwhile on South Australian soil, Brisbane have enjoyed seven wins and a draw from their last eight away encounters with the Reds.
THE FINAL WORD
With Glory's defeat to Sydney FC (and finals banishment) and Melbourne Victory's shock bottom-beating-top home loss to the Newcastle Jets on Friday, the Reds let a hell of an opportunity slip. They will need to regroup sharply when they take on the Western Sydney Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday.
Armed with a renewed lease of life, the Roar played inspired football to down Adelaide and can't be discounted this Saturday night when they host Melbourne Victory.
Adelaide United: Galekovic (c), Marrone (Kamau 45'), Boogaard, McGowan, Isaias, Cirio, Djite, Goodwin, Jeggo, Palanca (Sanchez 45') , Elrich
Brisbane Roar: Brown, Kaluderovic, Solorzano (Clut 81'), Bowles, McKay (c), Bratten, Hingert, Young, Broich (Lustica 65'), Borrello (Petratos 65'), De Vere
Scorers: Kaluderovic (26'), Galekovic og (40'), Hingert (54'), Goodwin (71'), Sanchez (90+4')
Red cards: Bowles (90'+4)
Yellow cards: Cirio (35'), Marrone (44'), Borrello (60'), Brown (76'), Jeggo (84'), Brattan (89')
Conditions: 21°C, sunny