Melbourne Victory boss Kevin Muscat had the look of a man who had pulled off the perfect smash and grab only to be stopped at gunpoint at the end of the road and mugged of his prize by his victim.
And well he might after Brisbane Roar stole an equaliser with the last kick of the game in a 1-1 season opening draw at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night in which Muscat gave A-League debuts to new signings Alan Baro, James Donachie and Mitch Austin as well as a “welcome back” first appearance to James Troisi, beginning his second stint with the club.
Match officials had signalled five minutes of stoppage time, but the clock was just five seconds short of the six minute mark of added time when Luke De Vere got on the end of a goalmouth scramble to loop the ball over the defence and stranded goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas’s head to give the 10-man Roar a share of the points which, up to that second, looked destined to be heading south.
Victory appeared to have pulled off the perfect smash and grab raid when, with eight minutes remaining and Brisbane reduced to 10 men after the dismissal of skipper Matty McKay with 25 minutes to play, Austin smashed home a shot from inside the area after the Roar failed to deal with a cross from Fahid Ben Khalfallah.
After Austin’s goal it looked to be double jeopardy for McKay, who should have been celebrating his 200th A-League appearance for the club, until De Vere’s last gasp leveller.
Muscat has stressed throughout the near three years that he has been in charge of Victory that his team will play the game on its own terms, take the match to their opponents and not bother whether they are at home or away.
He was as good as his word this time round as Victory blasted out of the blocks and made the early running although Brisbane pegged them back after that early start in a contest that bore the hallmarks of an opening day stoush: plenty of enthusiasm, commitment and desperation from two teams keen to make an early statement of intent.
Between them Brisbane and Victory have won six of the 11 A-League championships that have been decided and both clubs are expected to be there in the front line this season.
Muscat has strengthened his squad not just by signing Baro, Austin and Donachie, but regaining Troisi and another international, Kiwi Marco Rojas, who is also joining for a second period with the club. The tricky New Zealander was on international duty with the All Whites so missed the trip to Brisbane.
Muscat says Rojas will be back just 24 hours before next Saturday’s blockbuster derby clash with Melbourne City but will play some role in that game as long as he is fit.
The Victory coach said that while his players would undoubtedly be downcast after giving away such a late equaliser they had no reason to be.
“I thought we were very good value, not to concede too many chances, we dominated possession in the first half especially.
“The second half was an arm wrestle and with the amount of fouls it was only a matter of time before someone went.
“I thought James (Donachie) and Alan (Baro) were outstanding … they handled themselves very well. James Troisi brings a great deal of calmness in possession. Fahid had to play a different role for us tonight and he had a good appetite for the game, taking up selfless positions to create space for others.
“They will be downcast, but I won’t allow it. I am pleased with the performance.”
Muscat was particularly happy to have a fully fit and engaged Carl Valeri back in action.
“He brings a lot of calmness to us when we haven’t got the ball, he is obviously very tactically astute, he calms people around him. It’s like we have signed a new player this season.
For Brisbane Brett Holman, the former Socceroo midfielder who has joined the Queensland club this season, put in a good shift for his first 60 minutes and coach John Aloisi will be looking forward to the impact he can have when he gets fully into the Brisbane groove.