Brisbane Roar fans expected a game against the Newcastle Jets to be a Christmas gift. Instead, they left Suncorp Stadium with the soccer equivalent of a nicely-wrapped piece of coal.
The game was meant to be a Christmas party of sorts. Had they won, Brisbane would have notched up its 100th win since the A-League began. It was also goalkeeper Michael Theo's 100th game for the club.
Friday night’s 0-2 loss to the Jets was a frustrating one for the home side, who bossed the game but couldn’t score from clear-cut chances.
But unlike previous matches this season, there was to be no late goal for Brisbane.
The 87th-minute goal instead came from Newcastle substitute Joey Gibbs, who capped off a gritty smash-and-grab Jets victory by poking Josh Brillante’s cross past Roar keeper Michael Theo.
Newcastle’s first goal was just as agonising for Roar fans. Against the run of play, Newcastle took the lead in the 34th minute after Brisbane defender James Donachie tried to block a cross from Andrew Hoole and put the ball into his own net.
While Mike Mulvey’s men will remain on top of the A-League, the rest of the season could be shaped by how they bounce back from this reality check.
Depending on other results this weekend and next week, a loss to Sydney FC on Boxing Day could mean Brisbane begin 2014 in second place on the A-League ladder.
On a pitch cut up from recent Taylor Swift and Bon Jovi concerts, the middle section of Suncorp’s playing surface didn’t lend itself to a neat passing game.
It led to nearly every Brisbane Roar attack coming from the left wing, where Thomas Broich pumped at least a dozen crosses into the box.
But Newcastle’s central defensive pairing of Kew Jaliens and Taylor Regan kept the dangerous Besart Berisha at bay, and with Ivan Franjic off his game, Brisbane lacked another route to goal.
Brisbane’s best chance came in the 8th minute, when an unmarked Liam Miller failed to hit the target from 12 yards after receiving a cut-back from Franjic.
It was only in second half stoppage time that Jets keeper Mark Birighitti was forced into a critical save, when he tipped Luke Brattan’s free kick around the post.
Newcastle shut up shop for most of the game, switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a compact 4-3-3 midway through the first period.
By the time the full-time whistle had blown, Brisbane had 66 per cent possession, 500 accurate passes to 197, and 13 shots to 7.
“It was a frustrating night for us because they got numbers behind the ball and we didn’t move the ball quickly enough,” Brisbane coach Mike Mulvey said after the game.
“What this is, is a wake-up call to us. This is our home ground and we want it to be a fortress, it was up until now and it’s the first game in a while we haven’t scored.”
One man the Roar sorely missed was Kwame Yeboah.
The talented forward is expected to officially join German side Borussia Mönchengladbach in the coming days, but Mulvey insisted the two attackers who came off the bench on Friday - Henrique and Dimitri Petratos - had plenty of “x-factor” themselves.
Newcastle coach Gary Van Egmond praised his players after the game, especially given Emile Heskey and Nathan Burns did not play.
"They’re obviously the league leaders and to beat them on their home patch is extremely good," he said.
Newcastle’s best player was 20-year-old winger Josh Brillante, originally from Bundaberg, who menaced the Brisbane defence during multiple Jets counter-attacks and was the architect of the second goal.
“He’s been doing very well this season. We’re very happy with his development,” Van Egmond said.