The race for the final two A-League finals vacancies was whittled down to four after Melbourne Heart bowed out with a flat 2-0 loss to Brisbane Roar on Sunday.
And the premier’s plate is still up for grabs after Central Coast downed Adelaide United 2-0 at Hindmarsh Stadium on Sunday night.
A spirited Roar (32 points) jumped from eighth to fifth on a congested ladder with one regular season round left, but the Heart (27 points) bowed out of the top six hunt with a whimper.
Sixth-placed Sydney FC are on 32 points with Brisbane, but have an inferior goal difference of minus eight.
In a promoter’s dream, the Roar will learn their finals fate after they host fellow finals hopeful Sydney on Thursday night.
But Heart coach John Aloisi thought the omens were good for the two-time A-League defending champions.
“They will cause problems. They are hitting form at the right time,” he said of the Roar.
“If Brisbane do make it I think they can give it a real shake, because it doesn’t matter where you finish.”
Roar coach Mike Mulvey said his playoff equation was simple.
“We have set out to win. If we do that we won’t have to worry about anything else,” he said.
Adding to the finals intrigue, seventh-placed Perth Glory (31 points) and eighth-placed Newcastle Jets (31 points) remain in the mix for the final two playoff berths.
Perth finish their regular season at home against Adelaide United while the Jets host ladder leaders Western Sydney Wanderers.
The bubble didn’t exactly burst for the Wanderers but the newcomers missed out on sealing the premier’s plate with a game in hand when their 10-game winning streak ended in a 1-1 draw against Sydney on Saturday night.
The Wanderers can lose top spot if Central Coast beat Melbourne Heart and the A-League newcomers lose to Newcastle next weekend.
“The message we’ve given the players is that we’ve gone a step closer,” coach Tony Popovic said.
The Wanderers only concern is marquee signing Shinji Ono (groin), who left the field early in the second half.
Melbourne Victory (41 points) and Adelaide United (40 points) aren’t sweating on a finals spot – both will host home elimination finals.
But Victory coach Ange Postecoglou wasn’t pleased with his side’s 3-2 loss to Perth Glory on Saturday night.
“We were poor in every way, shape and form and got rightly punished for an unacceptable performance,” he said.