It has felt like Brisbane Roar have been waiting for playmaker Thomas Broich to step up all season but the veteran timed his run perfectly on Friday night to knock off Melbourne Victory in an exciting start to the Hyundai A-League Finals Series.
Broich’s stoppage-time header saw Roar triumph 2-1 in the elimination final, with Brisbane again coming from behind to win in thrilling circumstances at Suncorp Stadium.
Brisbane continued their unbeaten streak in finals at their home ground but will have to get the job done on the road next week if they are to play in a fourth A-League grand final, as they will visit Western Sydney Wanderers.
Roar will host the grand final if they defeat Western Sydney and premiers Adelaide United lose the other semi-final.
In scenes reminiscent of all three of Roar’s championship wins, the home side trailed with four minutes remaining after Besart Berisha was left unmarked to volley Kosta Barbarouses’ corner into the net.
But Brisbane struck back from the kick-off – Matt McKay turning Dimi Petratos’ cross past Lawrence Thomas.
Then, dramatically, Broich got on the end of Corona’s corner in the 93rd minute to secure a spot in the semi finals.
In truth, it was hard to glean too much from a contest where Victory dominated the first half before Roar slowly moved up through the gears in the second to eventually snatch the win.
Brisbane coach John Aloisi will hope, however, that the decisive moment of the match sparks both Broich and Corona for the rest of the 2016 Hyundai A-League Finals Series.
Corona had a poor first half due to Victory’s constant pressing, while Broich was largely invisible before the interval.
But as the match wore on, Brisbane’s Spanish holding midfielder started to find his range – particularly from set-pieces – while Broich, somewhat uncharacteristically, was a decent target for Corona.
Broich has hardly been poor this season but for someone who has won three championships, two premierships, plus two Johnny Warren Medals and a Joe Marston Medal, he has been below par in 2015-16.
But the 36-year-old stood up when it counted.
For Victory, elimination will be hard to swallow as Berisha’s goal in the dying stages was the least they had deserved.
Kevin Muscat’s men were all over Roar in the first half but – continuing the story of their season – a lack of polish in the forward third eventually saw their title defence end two weeks before the grand final.
Fahid Ben Khalfallah’s miss just after the half-hour mark was the most glaring for the visitors but he shouldn’t shoulder all the blame.
Muscat, who still has the AFC Champions League to focus on, will need to make some significant changes if Victory are to bounce back next season.
One question he should consider is whether his 4-2-1-3 formation is past its use-by date, with Victory having rarely reached the heights of 2014-15 this term.
Playing two up front could take some pressure off Berisha and perhaps give the Albanian more space to work with, and with Barbarouses and Gui Finkler departing, Muscat will have import spots and significant salary cap space available to ponder this ahead of Season 12.