Since news broke on Wednesday that Besart Berisha was heading to Melbourne Victory, Roar coach Mike Mulvey had been telling anyone who would listen there was life beyond the Albanian striker.
On Friday night at Suncorp Stadium, the proof was in the pudding. With the man of the moment cooling his heels on the sideline, suspended after being sent off against Perth, the Roar produced two of the goals of the season to bring home a spirited comeback against Wellington.
The Phoenix, who were unbeaten in their previous five outings, looked as if the Roar would drop their third consecutive game at home, thus loosening their stranglehold on the A-League ladder.
Instead the Roar have the Premiers Plate seemingly at their mercy, stretching their lead to eight points on the back of superb goals from 18-year-old Devante Clut (51st minute) and Luke Brattan (87th).
The Berisha move swamped the Roar during the week, dwarfing coverage of this game and threatening to be a huge distraction for the orange squad. The reply was emphatic, impressive and has added fresh energy to their championship drive.
Mulvey made it clear after the game he didn’t appreciate the Victory’s eagerness to spruik their new signing, saying he would have preferred if the announcement could have waited until Saturday morning.
Victory, in that case, was especially sweet, with Mulvey making his displeasure known know his side had taken care of business against an impressive Phoenix outfit, who led at the half with a goal to Stein Huysegems.
“It’s been a bit of a circus this week and I didn’t appreciate the fact that it was in the public domain Wednesday. We had a game to prepare for so I didn’t think there was much respect shown to us,” Mulvey said.
“We would have preferred to wait until Saturday morning. But it is what it is. While I’m displeased with it, that’s the nature of football at times. What you saw out there was a response by a group of players that will make every Brisbane Roar fan proud.”
If the night was notable for some tragic misses – Henrique stared down a virtual open goal in the first half and blinked – they were soon replaced by two of the goals of the season.
Clut, an 18-year-old signing from Sydney, didn’t even know he was starting until just over two hours before the game. He showed no nerves when he tapped the ball to himself, then volleyed past Glenn Moss to get the Roar on level footing.
“I told him ‘There’s a youth team game at 10.30am tomorrow but you’re not playing. You’re starting tonight.’, Mulvey said.
“I thought that was the best thing to do and he did the rest. Go back and have a look at his first touch. There’s a kid with a bit of confidence and a bright future.
“He was blowing the big ones after 65 minutes but I’m delighted for the boy. He’s trained with the first team since July and he worked his socks off in midfield.”
Brattan’s goal was even better. The impressive young midfield general stepped up to a ball 30m from home, zeroed in and unleashed a withering strike to took a slight deflection before rocketing past a hapless Moss.
“If you want one person for the ball to fall to 30 yards from goal, it’s Luke Brattan. He hits it sweetly. It was a magnificent strike. It too two specials goals to beat (Glenn Moss) tonight. Thankfully, we got them,” Mulvey said.
Brisbane return to Suncorp on Sunday, when they host old rivals Central Coast. Berisha will be available for selection, as are likely to be Liam Miller, Matt McKay and potentially Ivan Franjic.