Some argue against modern football. They might be joined by a mob of Melbourne Victory supporters now, following the second-half heroics of Michael Theo in Sunday’s Semi Final. Had the Melburnian been protecting the hopes of his hometown and not born-and-bred Brisbanite Nathan Coe, the composition of the 2013/14 A-League Grand Final might have different.
“You’re talking about the most celebrated player in the A-League,” Mike Mulvey said of his man.
“Michael’s been a rock for us, he’s been an unsung hero this year. He’s a fantastic guy to have in the dressing room, he’s a top draw goalkeeper and he deserves to be in another Grand Final.”
A fifth decider it will be for the former Melbourne Victory shot-stopper, with the previous four having produced an unblemished and historically memorable record.
After a key intervention minutes into the match to spare his skipper Matt Smith a costly error, Theo wasn’t extended until the final 20 minutes. He first palmed over an Archie Thompson drive, then dealt with a succession of corners, before excelling in the closing moments. Twice he saved from Thompson in stoppage time, both miraculously, while a block denied Troisi in his former club’s final effort.
While opposite number Coe was similarly untroubled for large periods, he failed to inspire when it mattered most – allowing Besart Berisha to power the game’s only goal inside his near post from a tight angle.
Not that coach Kevin Muscat blamed Coe. His scorn was reserved for another key figure. “Unfortunately the result was taken out of our hands by an official’s decision,” the rookie manager said.
In case his club’s fans back home had lost reception prior to Strebre Delovski’s decision to not award Victory a seemingly obvious penalty, the former captain elaborated with trademark abrasiveness.
“We aren’t the only ones who won’t be in the Grand Final next week because surely he can’t be in the final, missing decisions like that,” he said.
“The one thing sticking in my mind is it’s beyond belief how that can be missed. From where I was as well it looked like he put the whistle to his mouth and basically bottled it.
“Big crowd, home team and he bottled it.”
Mike Mulvey, who will coach for a double in his first full season as an A-League coach, was likewise steadfast, albeit in his belief the Premiers should have sealed their passage with fewer heart palpitations.
“I think that the better team ended up winning the game on the overall performance,” Mulvey said.
“I thought we had more than enough chances to not even be worried in the last ten minutes. We were the architects of our own situation … we’ll fix anything that we’ve got to fix.”
Fitting, then, that it was Berisha to be the only player to grasp an opportunity, even if the Melbourne-bound striker was short of his usual standard.
“Who else was going to score the winner today? I don’t think going there next season is weighing on him, I think he just wants to win trophies. He wants to be on the field, he wants to be part of a team that’s successful,” the Brisbane boss said.
The Albanian thus had his chance to complete a three-season spell in Queensland that’s been exactly that, due to the impact of his own doing, of his teammates, of the opposition and of the match officials.
Muscat, meanwhile, will have to wait for his star signing’s success to begin beyond Brisbane.
“We’re two stonewall penalties away from a Grand Final and a Round of 16 (in the Asian Champions League),” the vanquished coach lamented.
Perhaps Michael Theo can argue that point.