When the going gets tough, Tomi Juric gets going, and Adelaide United have the erstwhile Socceroo to thank for their place in the semi-finals after a pulsating win over Brisbane Roar.
Juric struck twice inside the opening 20 minutes in Adelaide’s 2-1 win over the Roar in Redcliffe, with the former Socceroo keeping his cool to steer home two excellent finishes.
His first was an expertly taken strike across his body after Ryan Strain picked out the bustling striker with a raking diagonal ball.
And Juric’s second, when he nutmegged Roar skipper Tom Aldred before outpacing the Englishman in a footrace, badly exposed Roar coach Warren Moon’s high-stakes gamble.
Aldred has barely featured over the back end of the season, so it was a huge call to start the talismanic defender when Kai Trewin has proved such an able deputy in recent weeks.
And the gamble backfired when Joey Champness lost possession in midfield, allowing Ryan Kitto to slide a pass into the feet of the quick-thinking Juric.
There seemed little danger when Juric flicked the ball through Aldred’s legs, but Brisbane’s high line was swiftly exposed when the sometime Socceroo simply steamrolled through on goal.
He still had it all to do as he squared up to Jamie Young, but the 29-year-old proved the old adage that if form is temporary, class is permanent as he put his recent goal drought behind him with a cool left-foot finish.
If the Adelaide fans in the south-eastern corner of the ground were in ecstasy, the Brisbane Roar faithful had been stunned into silence.
But here’s where Moreton Daily Stadium comes into its own and why Brisbane Roar should be reluctant to leave it.
Unlike in past finals fixtures at the cavernous Suncorp Stadium, the Brisbane fans sitting right on top of the action managed to roar their team right back into the contest.
It’s hard to overstate just how much more enjoyable it is watching football at a boutique stadium like the one in Redcliffe, where the sightlines are excellent and you’re surrounded by other fans.
Yet plenty of critical comments still get posted online about the Roar’s new home ground, often by fans posting from their own homes while the club they support is literally running around in Redcliffe.
There’s no denying it’s a long commute from Brisbane, but there’s also no denying it’s a vastly superior viewing experience for fans.
At any rate, the announced attendance of 7782 on Sunday seemed well short of the actual number inside the ground given that only a few hundred spare seats remained.
And the home fans were given something to cheer about when Alex Parsons nodded home a Corey Brown free kick in the 56th minute.
But if Roar fans thought it was to be the start of a comeback, their hopes were dashed by a combination of bad luck and better defending by a desperate Reds outfit.
Riku Danzaki was always going to be the player most likely to bust open the game for the Roar, but the bounce of the ball just never seemed to fall adequately for the Japanese star.
After Dylan Wenzel-Halls had shot straight at James Delianov, Danzaki just couldn’t scramble his feet in time to stab home another promising chance soon after.
And when substitute Golgol Mebrahtu saw one shot cleared off the line and another smothered by Delianov at the death, the writing was on the wall for a Roar side that threw absolutely everything at the injury-ravaged Reds in the second half.
Full credit to Carl Veart and his battle-hardened Adelaide outfit. They may have practised the dark arts in a go-slow second half, but they were good value for their win.
And full credit to the A-League’s finals series as well. As we saw in Gosford on Saturday night and again in Redcliffe a day later, nothing quite matches the intensity of finals football.