Brisbane Roar issued an A-League statement of intent with a clinical 1-0 win over Melbourne City on Friday night.
Jamie Maclaren’s second goal in as many games was all the Roar needed to book a third successive win and rise to second on the ladder after a quality display at Suncorp Stadium.
The result was built on defence, with Brisbane becoming the first team to hold City’s star-studded attack goalless this season.
But if anything the scoreboard flattered the visitors, who struggled to contain the Roar’s surprise counter-attacking tactics.
The crowd of 20,198 – boosted by Tim Cahill, who played a full match – was Brisbane’s biggest regular-season attendance since Sydney FC marquee Alessandro Del Piero’s visit in October 2013.
However, neither the Socceroo great nor strike partner Bruno Fornaroli had much impact, and City finished with zero shots on target.
The Roar, who usually like to dominate possession at home, had just 37 per cent of the ball in the first half but looked by far the more threatening side going forward.
Seemingly content to sit back and mop up opposition mistakes, Brisbane’s uncharacteristic approach paid dividends.
Maclaren’s 11th-minute goal came from such a counter-surge, which featured key contributions from Brett Holman, Thomas Broich and Tommy Oar.
Holman carved out the opening with a neat dribble, Broich provided the killer pass to Oar, and the fringe Socceroo winger’s stray touch as he rounded goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis was rescued and then smashed into the back of the net by Maclaren, who wheeled away in jubilation.
Brisbane had ample opportunities to add a second goal but lacked the composure to convert, although Bouzanis did save strongly in the 85th minute to deny Maclaren, who will join the Socceroos next week before their World Cup qualifier in Thailand.
City had its moments in the second half but couldn’t crack the Roar’s strong rearguard, with centre-back Luke DeVere particularly impressive.
City coach John van ‘t Schip accused the Roar of “parking the bus” and trying to stifle their attacking play.
“They changed their style completely from a ball-possession game, dominating, to a team that defends more and plays the ball over the top,” he said.
“We’ll get more teams that are going to defend and park the bus and try and get us on the counter. We will have to deal with that and come up with solutions.
“We just couldn’t penetrate enough.”
Brisbane coach John Aloisi said it was hard for his team to maintain possession given City’s pressing and man-on-man defence.
“If they are going to go man-on-man that’s up to them,” he said.
“If you’ve got players like Macca, why wouldn’t you actually exploit the space and some of their weaknesses?
“I thought we did that well. We created enough chances to win the game comfortably and I don’t think they created one clear chance.”