Melbourne Victory did it the hard way before scraping past Thai team Muangthong United and into the group stage of the Asian Champions League with a 2-1 win at Kardinia Park on Saturday night.
The Victory went behind to a bizarre goal scored directly from a cross, had skipper Mark Milligan’s penalty saved on the stroke of halftime and had to rely on a late and spectacular winner from the unlikely figure of Leigh Broxham to seal the win.
Victory’s other goal was scored by James Troisi in the 58th minute, although he missed a host of other chances.
Muangthong had looked a club in turmoil in the build-up to Saturday night’s match, with conflicting reports regarding the future of their English coach Scott Cooper.
They were also forced to play without their North Korean international defender Ri Kwang-chon, who was denied an Australian visa.
But the Thai team played their part in an entertaining encounter, only for Broxham to seal the win for Melbourne with a long-range strike in the 83rd minute which was deflected in by Muangthong defender Thitiphan Puangjan.
The Victory started the match brightly with the impressive Tom Rogic pulling the strings in midfield.
But it was the visitors who went ahead against the run of play in the 22nd minute when Macedonian international Mario Durovski scored direct from a corner, with his curling effort evading defender Scott Galloway at the near post and goalkeeper Nathan Coe.
The Victory were gifted a golden opportunity to equalise on the stroke of halftime when they were awarded a penalty after Archie Thompson was hacked down in the box.
But Milligan – back in the starting lineup after recovering from a knee injury – had his penalty saved by goalkeeper Tossapol Lated diving low to his left.
Teerasil Dangda should have doubled Muangthong’s advantage two minutes into the second half, only to have his shot blocked by Coe.
The Victory goalkeeper was called into action again in the 55th minute when he made a fine save to thwart the dangerous Durovski.
Victory finally got back onto level terms in the 58th minute when Troisi timed his run perfectly to head home Galloway’s pin-point cross.
The Thai side continued to look dangerous, with English forward Jay Bothroyd drawing another good save from Coe in the 63rd minute.
Broxham saved Melbourne’s blushes with his 83rd-minute winner, only seconds after Thompson and Milligan had both gone close to scoring for the home side.
Muangthong skipper Datsakorn Thonglao was sent off in injury time for headbutting Broxham as the Victory advanced to the group stage of the ACL for the fourth time in their history.
Their next match is away to Guangzhou Evergrande from China on February 26.