Kosta Barbarouses is the one that got away.
The 20-year-old Wellington striker has made every post a winner since his move from the Wellington Phoenix to Brisbane Roar this season and is finally getting the regular gametime he craves.
Both Barbarouses and Brisbane are riding high – sitting second on the ALeague table as coach Ange Postecoglu's emphasis on promoting youth pays rich dividends.
Tonight's clash at Westpac Stadium will be Barbarouses' first visit in enemy colours and he admitted it was a strange feeling flying into the capital with a new team.
"But I am here with a different team so I've got a job to do," Barbarouses said. "Playing at Westpac again will be great, in front of the Yellow Fever and also to see the family will be great. I'd like to think I left on a good note so hopefully I won't get too many boos."
Postecoglu has the Roar playing arguably the most attractive brand of football in the league, with their game built on short, quick passing and creative counter-attack.
"I've benefited a lot, playing regular football and I feel like I'm improving every week," Barbarouses said.
"I like the ball at my feet, but with Wellington I was used to playing a little bit more direct. So I think it is suiting me a little bit better and we're playing pretty well at the moment."
Barbarouses already has bragging rights over the Phoenix, having scored the winner in Brisbane's 1-0 victory earlier this season at Suncorp Stadium. He came off the bench in Brisbane's 1-1 draw with Sydney FC on Saturday but Postecoglu said he was likely to start against his old team-mates tonight.
For Barbarouses it is also an opportunity to impress Phoenix and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, who overlooked him for New Zealand's internationals against Paraguay and Honduras last month.
"I was a little bit disappointed," Barbarouses said. "But I'm looking forward, there's a few more coming up next year."
Barbarouses' new team-mates have been grilling him on the Phoenix's record at Westpac Stadium, where they have not lost for two years and 24 games.
"They ask me `why are they so good at home?' and what can I tell them, you know. They [Phoenix] just seem to raise their game when they're at Westpac and I think the crowd has a lot to do with that."
Of course, Barbarouses is not the only Brisbane player that the Phoenix will have to keep an eye on in what promises to be an evenly matched and attractive spectacle, if the weather plays ball.
Skipper Matt McKay and classy German import Thomas Broich have the midfield humming, while young Aussie gun Mitch Nichols and Brazilian striker Reinaldo are also major threats.
Postecoglu is wary of the Phoenix because of their tremendous home record and also the fact they are well rested coming off the bye.
"It's a fantastic record and when you go for that length of time without losing, it gives the players that confidence," Postecoglu said. "It's an enormous challenge for us, particularly because we played on Saturday and we're backing up whereas Wellington are obviously a little bit rested. There are some challenges there but that's the good bit, you can go in there with nothing to lose."
Postecoglu has also done his homework on new Phoenix signing Simon Elliott.
"I'm well aware of Simon, he's a great player and he had a great World Cup.
"He's had a very good career and he obviously adds some real experience and some creativity to their midfield. So he's someone we'll have to be aware of, but from our point of view it's more about doing our stuff well."
Wellington (probable): Mark Paston, Jade North, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Simon Elliott/Nick Ward, Tim Brown, Leo Bertos, Paul Ifill, Chris Greenacre. Reserves: Danny Vukovic, Ward/Troy Hearfield, Daniel, Dylan Macalliste.
Brisbane (from): Michael Theoklitos, Matt Smith, Luke Devere, Ivan Franjic, Erik Paartalu, Kosta Barbarouses, Massimo Murdocca, Jean Carlos Solorzano, Reinaldo, Matt Mundy, Rocky Visconte, Matt McKay, Mitch Nichols, Andrew Redmayne, Thomas Broich, Milan Susak.
- The Dominion Post
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