Brisbane coach Ange Postecoglou concedes the Roar are unlikely to run down A-League leaders Central Coast despite halting the Mariners’ 15-game unbeaten streak with a 2-0 win at Bluetongue Stadium.
First-half goals from Erik Paartalu and Besart Berisha in front of 10,217 fans in Gosford on Saturday ensured the Roar bounced back from last week’s surprise home loss to Newcastle.
And the result also left the door ever so slightly ajar for the Mariners’ to be run down in the race for the Premiers’ Plate, with their lead cut to seven points ahead of second-placed Wellington.
Reigning premiers and champions Brisbane sit one point behind the Phoenix with seven games to play, though the Mariners have a game in hand on both of their nearest rivals.
“There’s still a long way to go and the Mariners are still the best team in the comp,” Postecoglou said.
“I don’t expect them to drop the series of games that they’d need to but that’s not the important thing for us.
“I’ve said all along, the important thing going into finals is that you’re playing good football regardless of where you finish.”
Both sides were hit by Olyroos commitments with the Mariners missing in-form goalkeeper Mat Ryan, Mustafa Amini and Oliver Bozanic and Brisbane without midfielder Mitch Nichols.
Justin Pasfield started in goals for the home side but it was only five minutes before he was beaten, as Paartalu got the Roar off to an ideal start.
A Thomas Broich through-ball found Nick Fitzgerald and the impressive teenage midfielder’s cut-back pass took a deflection off Central Coast’s Alex Wilkinson, allowing Paartalu to finish with a precise side-footed shot.
A-League top-scorer Berisha doubled the advantage with his 12th goal of the season in the 38th minute, to cap an eventful few weeks in which he was suspended for his involvement in a post-match melee against Sydney FC.
Berisha celebrated the goal by running to the sidelines to warmly embrace Postecoglou while the coach attempted to downplay another emotional incident involving the Albanian, in which he had to be restrained because of what appeared to be a disagreement with team-mate James Meyer after the fulltime whistle.
“We seem to get super excited about these things … he loves football, he loves playing the game,” Postecoglou said.
“We live in a boring old world these days. We just want people to not smile, don’t be too happy, don’t be too upset, don’t be too anything … He’s alright.”
Arnold felt his side may have lost some momentum having not played for two weeks because their clash away to Gold Coast on January 27 was washed out, but was proud of the second-half performance.
“It’s their first loss in 16 games and they’ve been fantastic, you’ve got to lose it some time,” Arnold said.
“There was definitely two teams out there. Two sets of rules.”
Arnold said he had taken no notice of speculation linking him to the vacant Sydney FC coaching role for next season.