As the sweetly struck ball left the foot of Brisbane Roar’s Bahraini defender Mohamed Adnan, most would have considered it a lost cause for Melbourne Heart.
The stoppage time penalty was hit toward the right corner with venom, the kind of shot few keepers would have hoped to save. Despite a half of dominance for the Heart, it appeared the Roar would claim the contest after all, along with the coveted top-spot.
But it was already written that, as he had been for much of the night, Melbourne Heart goalkeeper Craig Bolton would again be his side’s hero, their saving grace.
The veteran keeper guessed right and reacted to the shot in the same manner he had dealt with Roar chances all game: agility and a strong pair of hands, parrying the shot away from the danger area and earning the Heart a deserved draw after at least a half of dominance.
Heart have been erratic this season, and their last two wins against the Gold Coast and Central Coast had landed them back in finals contention, having finally atoned for a horror slump that threatened to ruin their campaign.
However, the Heart needed a positive result to retain their top-six ambitions, and the team in red and white were buoyant after defeating their opponents at Suncorp Stadium back in December.
The Brisbane Roar, on the other hand, have expectedly failed to live up to the steep heights of last season, with player departures, a number of injuries, and a lack of chemistry in the revamped squad. Nevertheless, a win for the Roar in Melbourne would still have ensured they climbed into top spot.
There was a lot riding on this game, and a positive result was crucial in the context of both teams’ seasons.
Friday night’s contest at AAMI Park was at times an eye-catching attacking affair, with some fine counter-attacking football on display, but aside from the superficial aesthetics, the clash also reflected the importance of the game for both clubs and their finals aspirations.
The contest was a high intensity end-to-end match, with the Roar dominating the first half. Midfield maestro Thomas Broich returned and pulled the strings effectively as he has done in every match he has played. He was a part of his team’s only goal, deflecting a ricochet which fell obligingly for attacker Mitch Nicholls, who continues to impress for club and country. Nicholls finished emphatically for the away side after 33 minutes.
If not for a number of solid one-on-one saves by the experienced Bolton, the Roar may have converted more than once during the opening half, as the Heart failed to provide solid cover for the 36-year-old goalkeeper.
Nicholls limped off with a groin complaint at the end of the first half, and that appeared to be the catalyst that swung the momentum of the contest, as a Curtis Good header leveled the scores after 49 minutes. The Heart began to display the same sort of attacking fluidity that was evident in their early season form and took control of the contest.
But Melbourne’s failure to convert their superiority into goals so nearly cost them the match, as the Roar were awarded a stoppage time penalty when talisman Besart Berisha was felled by Simon Colosimo in the area.
Bolton’s crucial penalty save and his ability to deny an ambitious Brisbane outfit throughout the evening could play a crucial role in his side’s finals objectives. The vital draw sees the Heart sitting fifth, and within their target of a top-six finish.