Melbourne Victory took until two minutes from time to overcome a resolute Perth Glory at Docklands Stadium on Thursday night to stretch its lead at the top of the A-League to twelve points. Grant Brebner opened his account for the season in a most timely fashion when it seemed Glory would have come away with the point it seemed ready to settle for at kick-off.
"It was looking like it would end up a draw," said Brebner after the game. "We would have felt that was unfair, but we kept it going, and thankfully we got it in the end."
"The plan was to try and get a point out of tonight's game and we almost did it," said Perth Glory coach Ron Smith in the after-match media conference. "I don't think it's a great way of playing football - I don't particularly like doing it."
Circumstances had conspired to compel Glory to act so conservatively, having played just four days beforehand in Adelaide. Glory fronted Melbourne without having returned home and with three key outfield players out through injury.
Victory coach Ernie Merrick was delighted to have picked up another win, despite it coming so late. "Most teams come here and sit, and so we have to be patient," he said. "If we get an early goal, it changes the pattern of the match - they have to come out more."
Merrick however was prepared to wait and said he didn't care when the goal came as long as it did.
"We were very tired (tonight)," said Brebner referring to the exertions of the nine-man effort against the Mariners just six days beforehand. "We didn't have the sharpness of previous weeks."
Perhaps aware of how well Melbourne finished against Central Coast last week which retained eleven players on the park whilst Victory played short, Perth Glory submitted a team-sheet which indicated twelve Glory players would start. It was Luka Glavas who was finally omitted to ensure only the regulation eleven took the field.
The opening was quiet by the standards of the last few home games. Neither the goals nor dismissals which had previously been in abundance were evident. But it was an enthralling clash of styles - a more subtle and constrained contest than the extravagance and mutually assured destruction on display in previous weeks.
It was rather like the back seat of a bus taking a bunch of fifth-formers on a school excursion. The probings were uncertain and there was little penetration to speak of.
However there were cameos from Archie Thompson and Fred who happily took on their markers with displays of speed and trickery. Thompson especially so on one magical run down the left which resulted in four challengers flailing thin air.
Thompson had the best chances of the first half, both on supply from Danny Allsopp. The first came just before the half's midpoint when he was wide on a rushed shot after Allsopp's nod down of Kristian Sarkies' cross from the right. The second came nine minutes before the interval, when he ran on to a long ball from Allsopp after a break from defence began by Simon Storey. Thompson attempted to lift the ball over Glory goalkeeper Tom Tomich but lifted it over the bar as well.
To be fair, Glory's muted display was likely due to having had two fewer days recovery from the matches of the previous round, and being without the influential trio of Stan Lazaridis, Bobby Despotovski, and Simon Colossimo. Stuart Young was the sole striker as Glory sought to soak up the pressure and play Victory on the break. It was a plan which almost worked.
Merrick sent out his team for the second half with a more attacking outlook, sending Fred and Adrian Caceres to join Thompson and Allsopp up front in a 4-2-4 formation.
But it was when Caceres made way for Alessandro the action began to heat up. Immediately the two Brazilians combined effectively and worked off each other, setting up a series of passing exchanges which kept the Glory defence on its toes. Victory raised the pressure, urged on by its never silent support.
On the hour, Kristian Sarkies went on a strong solo run up the middle, fending off the attentions of Adrian Webster along the way before driving a ball up the inside right channel for Allsopp to chase. Allsopp galloped goalwards and required the combined efforts of Naum Sekulovski and Tomich to thwart his attempt.
Thompson later made a good run across the park from the left after getting behind the defence from Alessandro's pass up the wing, but his shot was wide.
As the game's end neared, Brebner warmed up for his later more productive strike, snapping up a volley from 20 metres through a crowd of players following a part-cleared corner and drawing a good save from Tomich.
Only minutes later he did. Alessandro had been brought down by Leo Bertos wide on the left as he pulled out another piece of trickery. Sarkies' free-kick was played square across to Brebner via Alessandro in a move practised on the training ground. Brebner repeated his earlier attempt, this time with devastating effect.
"After the (earlier effort) it gave me a bit of confidence", said the happy scorer. I'd hit the target and (I'd) got a good connection (on it). With five minutes to go you've got to just to try and have one, and thankfully it hit the back of the net."
Twice within a week a late goal lifted the roof off the stadium and sent the exuberant crowd into raptures.