Queensland Roar's title aspirations must finally been taken seriously, as the northerners closed to within a point of A-League leaders and visitors Central Coast Mariners, with a 2-1 win at Lang Park tonight.
Local hero Matt McKay got the winner for Queensland, the third goal of a pulsating opening half hour of the game.
Queensland got off to a flying start, and in the second minute, Murdocca set McKay free with an excellent through pass. McKay tried to jink onto his left foot for the shot, and the Mariners defender jammed a foot in the way. The ball fell into the path of Reinaldo da Costa, and the big Brazilian was through on goal, with only Danny Vukovic ahead of him. Reinaldo feinted to shoot, but then tried to dribble around Vukovic. The keeper got his fingers to it, pushing the ball away for a corner.
So, the first chance to Queensland.
But just five minutes later, the Mariners were awarded the first of many free kicks within dangerous range, about five metres outside the penalty box, on the left edge of goal. Greg Owens curled the ball around the nearside of the wall. Reddy flew across his goal, but the shot hit the post and bounced out without the keeper getting a touch.
Just a couple of minutes later, Central Coast took the lead. Matt Simon found plenty of space and pace chasing a diagonal pass from Heffernan, which had the Roar defence stretched beyond breaking. The impressive Simon drilled the ball across goal, and ace poacher John Aloisi was there to slide in and poke the ball home.
It was a move of high quality, executed at top pace, and there was nothing Queensland could do to stop it. Fortunately, the Roar had plenty of attacking weapons of their own. Wide men Kruse and Tiatto were causing the Central Coast defenders plenty of headaches, and ever-lively Reinaldo was a constant physical presence.
In the 21st minute, Sasa Ognenovski hit a perfect long diagonal ball to Robbie Kruse. Kruse took on Heffernan, and got a low cross in to the near post from the byline.
With Reinaldo hot on his heels, Tony Vidmar was first to the cross, but his attempted clearance skewed off his boot into the net. 1-1. This game was more than alive. It was kicking. Every loose ball was a contest, every moment in possession was precious, and every player was under pressure. In these games, those players with superior skill and composure stand out.
Robbie Kruse and Matt McKay are the two Queensland players who best exhibit skill under pressure.
Kruse found McKay again surging forward down the inside left channel. McKay exchanged passes with Tiatto, skipped around Coast skipper Wilkinson, and his shot took a deflection off Vidmar on its way past Vukovic.
With Queensland in the lead, the local supporters were in full voice. Referee Ben Williams had his hands full with both sides attempting to win the physical battle, and there was no shortage of free kicks.
The tackles were flying from all angles all night and perhaps the only surprise in the referee's report will be that Danny Tiatto's obligatory yellow card was for dissent, rather than for any particular foul play.
Just after the half hour, Danny Vukovic made another good, from a low drive by Hyuk-su Seo. Wilkinson was there for the crumbs, once again half a step ahead of Reinaldo.
After the break, the pace let us just fractionally, but Central Coast never gave up the chase for points.
Sasa Ognenosvki sent a Scud missile of a free kick towards the Mariners goal, but the radar was a fraction of a degree off target. Tiatto limped off just after the hour mark, and was replaced by Marcinho.
Mariners coach McKinna sent on Andre Gumprecht at the same time, and in a final throw of the dice, big Paul O'Grady went on with 10 minutes to go to throw his weight around in a three-man forward line.
O'Grady only succeeded in getting his name in the referee's book for a late tackle on Ognenosvki, and could well have been given his marching orders only seconds later for another clumsy move on Stuart McLaren.
But the best chances of the second half fell to Queensland. In the 68th minute, Kruse received the ball in the penalty box, and found enough room for a shot. Vukovic blocked it and the ball fell to Marcinho. He steadied himself for the shot, which Vukoic saved again. But the rebound came out to Marcinho. Finally, this time … but no! Vukovic got in the way again, turning the shot away for a corner.
The last 10 minutes was frantic and worrisome for the home crowd, but Queensland were good value for their win.
Central Coast had plenty of threat up front with Aloisi and Simon, but lacked quality ball from the midfield Tom Pondeljak - out injured on this occasion -- was missed by the visitors, but it seemed strange to me that Gumprecht was left on the bench, when Kwasnik and Jedinak did not provide the service their strikers needed.