If most A-League followers had this season pegged as a three-way battle between Central Coast, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney, they'd better expand it to four.
Brisbane Roar are the real deal. Their hot pre-season form was scoffed at by many but Mike Mulvey's side are contenders. Sunday's 1-0 win over the Mariners, in Gosford, confirmed it.
Whether they can go the distance is another matter but to come to Bluetongue Stadium, dominate possession and create more chances is a marvellous pointer of things to come.
But the win was only achieved in the 89th minute when a spectacular strike from Kwame Yeboah settled the result. The Gold Coast product, who had only come on as a substitute minutes earlier, took a clever touch on the edge of the area before blasting his effort into the roof of Liam Reddy's net.
In front of 8303 fans, it was no less than the Roar deserved, not least because they were missing Besart Berisha, Shane Stefanutto, Liam Miller and Jade North.
“We were working hard for 89 minutes and it paid off in the end,” Yeboah said after the game. “We had to get a shot in during the second half eventually, and thankfully it came off.”
Mike Mulvey said he was delighted at how his team responded to the criticism he gave them last week – despite winning 3-0 over Melbourne Heart.
“I gave them a hit on the backside last week, and they took it on the chin,” he said. “This is the way they've responded. Everything written tomorrow should be about the quality of the players and their attitude.”
Yet had the 19-year-old's effort not swerved home, the story of the day would have surely been Reddy.
Almost 18 months ago he was sacked by Sydney FC for being drunk on a flight to Wellington before a preliminary final and his professional career looked over.
However, he never gave up on his mission to get back to the top and after stints in Iran and the NSW Premier League, Graham Arnold threw him a lifeline at the Mariners.
Given his first start after a howler by Justin Pasfield last week, Reddy clasped his chance and provided a brilliant display between the posts.
The signs were all there from the start that this would be a match of genuine quality, highlighted by a lively early speed and crisp passing.
Formations were tight but flexible – a genuine sign of the tactical awareness of both coaches. Both teams in particular impressed with their ability to rotate and cover, depending on the situation.
The Mariners played more on the break but perhaps failed to give Daniel McBreen – making his first appearance since returning from his loan deal in China – the support he needed. Arnold later lamented that the reigning golden boot winner lacked his usual “power”.
Brisbane grew in confidence and their slick distribution helped them dominate possession, aided by a masterful midfield display by Matt McKay and Ivan Franjic.
The Mariners felt hard done by early on when a handball claim against James Donachie was turned down, one that could have changed the match's complexion.
“If you're going to bully a young linesman and not listen to him then there's no use having him out there,” Arnold said. “The young linesman flagged for a penalty. He waved the flag and tried to get the referee's attention. Ben Williams didn't want to see it.”
Both sides created a handful of half-chances during the first 45 minutes, and Reddy in particular had to be alert.
The keeper was again at his best throughout the second half as the Roar lifted their game, and Dimi Petratos looked to have bagged a winner until Reddy made a wonder save in the 74th minute. But no one could have kept Yeboah's winner out.
BRISBANE ROAR 1 (Kwame Yeboah 89m) bt CENTRAL COAST MARINERS 0 at Bluetongue Stadium. Crowd: 8,303. Referee: Ben Williams.