Central Coast shock minor premiers Brisbane
Warning signs were evident at training all week but it seems nothing could have prepared coach Mike Mulvey for the Brisbane Roar's shock 2-0 A-League loss to the Central Coast Mariners at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Saving their worst for last, the minor premiers were overrun by a desperate Mariners outfit in the regular-season finale to ensure plenty of food for thought during their break over the first week of the finals.
Mulvey had warned that his side had put in several "sub par" training sessions ahead of the Mariners clash.
However, alarm bells would still have been ringing for Mulvey after a lacklustre Roar had their six-game unbeaten run snapped when ambushed by old foes Central Coast in front of a 14,218 crowd.
Denied second spot by Western Sydney's 3-2 win over Melbourne Heart earlier on Saturday, the Mariners still played with purpose to lock up third on the ladder and a home semi-final through first half goals to Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres.
In contrast, Brisbane played like they had trained all week, rarely getting out of first gear.
It's not all doom and gloom for two-time premiers the Roar - they finished 10 points clear of the Wanderers in first spot and have a full strength roster for the first time this season ahead of the playoffs.
However, Mulvey would not have liked what he had seen in a game that was supposed to provide welcome pre-finals practice.
It seemed only a matter of time before the Mariners struck and great lead-up work by constant threat Bernie Ibini and Storm Roux ensured Fitzgerald finally drew first blood in the 22nd minute.
Six minutes later Caceres's tracer bullet strike thrashed the back of the net after Ibini again provided good service, leaving Roar 'keeper Michael Theo no chance.
The Roar did find ways to slice open Central Coast's defence, only to be let down by poor finishing.
Brisbane came closest in the 40th minute when a sliding Dimitri Petratos fed off Luke Brattan and Matt McKay but hit the post from point blank range.
Mariners coach Phil Moss dipped his hat to his side after they sealed a top three spot while also juggling Asian Champions League commitments.
The Mariners host FC Seoul in an AFC Champions League clash in Gosford on Wednesday night.
"That was as close to perfect that you can get in a football game," he said.
"I am delighted by the way they stuck to the gameplan and executed it.
"We can take some confidence into the finals and Wednesday night's game against Seoul."
Meanwhile, Mulvey was philosophical about his team's performance.
"I don't want to sound like I am criticising (the Mariners) but it is a lot easier to spoil than create - that's what they came to do tonight," he said.
"They were determined, incredibly disciplined and made us do what they wanted - play through the middle.
"We still created some good chances and on another night we would have scored goals.
"Even in the 80th minute I thought if we got one goal we would get two."
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Nicholas Fitzgerald 22m, Anthony Caceres 28m) Brisbane Roar 0 at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 14,218. Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones