Roar midfielder Thomas Broich and Mark Bridge of the Wanderers challenge for the ball at Suncorp Stadium. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Given the status quo of the Brisbane Roar, this could only be classed as an improvement. But as the unshakable confidence and slick football that defined their years of dominance continues to evaporate, near enough is no longer good enough.
The Western Sydney Wanderers have achieved any number of firsts in their rookie A-League season, some by obvious default, some by design.
The latest came on a hot and oppressively humid afternoon at Suncorp Stadium, where they slashed Brisbane's tyres in the second half to rally for a thrilling 2-1 victory. The air rushing out of a rapidly deflating stadium was about the only breeze in town.
It was the first time the new club had overcome a deficit to win. Five times they had fallen behind in games and five times they had lost.
That they put an end to that run against the twice defending champion was a poignant moment, in which one side displayed its surprise title credentials and the other continued a paralysing slide from grace.
Brisbane, second last on the ladder, desperately needed a result at home if they were to make a run at the finals. Coaching changes, player departures and internal disquiet in the post-Postecoglou apocalypse has seen their once-fabled swagger become a ginger limp.
Post-season football without Brisbane hasn't seemed possible in the past two summers but in 2013, but it's the Wanderers that have a buzz about them heading towards the home turn.
The match wasn't without its controversy but the Roar weren't going to use an offside ruling on Youssouf Hersi's winning goal (70th min) as an excuse. They know as well as anyone the problems at the club run deeper than any individual ruling.
Even so, it was a pivotal moment in the match and potentially the season. Shinji Ono was clearly offside as Hersi skipped clear but he was ruled to be divorced enough from play to let the goal stand.
Roar coach Mike Mulvey wasn’t thrilled with the ruling but admitted his defenders simply switched off as they wished for a flag.
“I am not going to make any excuses with regards to referees; they have a job to do. Maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t,” Mulvey said.
Mulvey has won just two games from his six in charge of the Roar, where he took over from Rado Vidosic, a long-time assistant to Ange Postecoglou who was shuffled sideways after 11 games in his first head coaching role.
There’s little guarantee of Mulvey’s job either, even if the Roar showed some fire in the first half to take a 1-0 lead at the break courtesy of a Mitch Nichols goal in the 23rd minute. The Wanderers were flat and seemingly battling to compete in the difficult conditions.
Coach Tony Popovic gave them new life in the second half and two goals in four minutes were enough to bury the Roar. Mark Bridge caught the static Brisbane defence napping and keeper Michael Theo on his line in the 66th minute.
Four minutes later, Hersi galloped up the park to smash home the winner, giving the Wanderers a perfect three-from-three record against the Roar this season and keeping them safely in the top four.
Now Popovic is hearing not only talk of finals but talk of silverware, both topics he may not have thought would be up for discussion given the infancy of his club.
He predictably watered that down but backed his outfit to beat any side on their day.
“Look at where Brisbane are on the ladder and where we are and yet in the first half you saw the quality the Roar had. This group will not take anything for granted,” Popovic said.
There's even more bad news for the Roar. Besart Berisha and Shane Stefanutto were both given yellow cards amid a heated ending and will miss the away match against Perth next week. A loss there would almost be enough to put a nail in their forgettable and dramatic campaign.
Roar star Thomas Broich, who had blood pouring from his nose after a clash with Jerome Polenz, said it was another difficult day for a club that had taken the bar to new levels over recent seasons.
“That’s how it goes. There can’t be any excuse. We’ve been lucky in the past when things went our way. Another pretty depressing afternoon,” Broich said.