Brisbane Roar will have to hope Wellington Phoenix do them a favour, as their Hyundai A-League Championship hopes seem to hinge on whether they get to play a home semi-final.
A youthful Melbourne Victory XI held Brisbane to a scoreless draw on Saturday night, denying Roar the Premiers Plate and handing Western Sydney Wanderers a shot at second spot if they can defeat the Phoenix in Wellington on Sunday.
The result continued Roar’s poor away record this season – they have won just three of 13 matches on the road – and coach John Aloisi must be concerned about his team’s ability to get the job done outside of Queensland in the finals.
At home, Brisbane have won 11 of 14 matches in 2015-16, losing just once.
If the Wanderers defeat the Phoenix, they will leapfrog Brisbane into second on goal difference, meaning Roar will host Victory in the opening week of the finals.
But if Brisbane finish third and overcome Victory they will have to visit Western Sydney in the semi-finals, and their poor away form could again come into play.
In a boost for Aloisi’s side, the Wanderers’ Pirtek Stadium is one of the few away venues where they have claimed three points this term, but they have only two victories there in seven visits.
Even if Roar were to qualify for the grand final, they can only host the decider if Adelaide United – who were effectively crowned premiers on Saturday – were to lose their respective semi-final.
This was a huge missed opportunity for Brisbane.
The visitors could have struck in just the third minute as Tommy Oar’s in-swinging cross somehow skidded past both Jamie Maclaren and Matt McKay at the back post.
Brisbane had some joy on both flanks in the first period, with Oar hitting the side-netting from a Corey Brown cutback in the 26th minute, while Victory full-back Jason Geria was perhaps slightly fortunate to avoid a red card when he was judged to have fouled Maclaren seven minutes later.
Maclaren was just 20 yards from goal with just goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas ahead of him.
While the foul was soft – Geria appeared to be shoulder-to-shoulder with Maclaren – as soon as the foul was awarded it seemed a genuine goal-scoring opportunity had been denied, but referee Peter Green decided a yellow card was enough.
In general, however, Brisbane struggled to break down the hosts, who rested the likes of Kosta Barbarouses, Matthieu Delpierre and Leigh Broxham, while Besart Berisha was suspended.
Victory kept Brisbane fairly quiet for the second half as well, and when the visitors broke through, Thomas – who started his fifth straight game in all competitions – ensured the scores remained locked at 0-0.
Thomas’ first big save was to deny Maclaren in a one-on-one on the hour mark, while the 23-year-old gloveman also got down sharply to parry Henrique’s effort in the 78th minute.
Then, just as Adelaide fans started to genuinely dream of their club’s second Premiers Plate, Thomas clawed the ball wide of his post in stoppage time after James Donachie appeared to get the final touch on a free-kick at the back post.
Thomas Broich would waste a top opportunity just a minute later as the home fans began to chant “we are champions”, while the final whistle was greeted with one of the loudest cheers heard at AAMI Park since Victory won the championship last season.
Aloisi cut a forlorn figure on the sideline as that whistle sounded, as the former Socceroos striker was denied the opportunity to lift the Premiers Plate in the city where his coaching career started in dreadful circumstances.
In December 2013, Aloisi was sacked by Melbourne Heart after a 12-game winless start to the 2013-14 season, having won just eight of his 39 games in charge of the club now known as Melbourne City.
The 40-year-old deserves plenty of credit for how he has galvanised Roar this campaign, with the club having been plagued by financial issues during pre-season.
But Aloisi will know that such gift-wrapped opportunities as Brisbane had to win silverware on Saturday night don’t come around too often.