All of a sudden, Melbourne Victory look a serious title threat.
Kevin Muscat’s side will carry a head of steam into their Big Blue with Sydney FC after a terrific first-up finals defeat of Wellington Phoenix on Friday night.
Victory were well worth their 3-1 win over the Nix, earned with goals from Georg Niedermeier, Kosta Barbarouses and Ola Toivonen.
There was plenty to like about Victory.
Firstly, the performance.
Toivonen was unplayable up front, so much that Wellington’s defenders took to manhandling the giant Swede.
Keisuke Honda and Raul Baena set the tone in midfield, while Thomas Deng and Leigh Broxham have sured up troublesome spots in wide defence.
Secondly, Victory’s performance will grow their confidence.
Beaten coach Mark Rudan said his side’s mistakes and Victory’s experience were the difference at AAMI Park.
That experience also extends to Melbourne's unforgettable 3-2 extra-time defeat of Sydney FC at the same stage last season, when the Sky Blues were premiers and strong favourites to progress and win the title.
Thirdly, the week ahead also favours the Victorians.
Both Sydney FC and Victory must travel to South Korea for Asian Champions League matches before their duel on Sunday.
But Victory, already eliminated, will leave any senior player carrying a complaint at home whereas Sydney FC will be at full strength as they chase progression from the group stage.
"Whether players stay here, staff stay behind, we’ll work out what’s best for preparation and we’ll take it from there,” Muscat said.
"I’ve got some thinking to do … I don’t know what Sydney are doing.
"I’m not sure if that will be an advantage.”
The elimination final was, as Muscat predicted, a battle, and the two-time champion coach was delighted with the mature approach his side showed.
Wellington racked up seven yellow cards - including a late dismissal to Michal Kopczynski - to Victory’s none.
"(We were) very driven and very disciplined,” Muscat said.
"It started to spill over a little bit. Of course it’s a final. Everybody’s going to go that step further. I haven’t got a problem with it.
"What I’m pleased is how we conducted ourselves and handled ourselves.”
That includes his Super Swede, who Muscat warned was just hitting top form.
"His finish was remarkable,” he said.
"Ola’s been getting better and better. It was a really strong performance.”