The A-League’s most combustible player, Besart Berisha, provided the fireworks for a dramatic Brisbane Roar championship triumph on Sunday night.
For the second straight week and his second A-League grand final, Berisha duly delivered in a fairytale farewell to Brisbane Roar.
Bound for Melbourne Victory next season, the Albanian international signed off in fitting style with a late equaliser in their 2-1 extra-time triumph over Western Sydney Wanderers at Suncorp Stadium.
The Wanderers were poised to claim their maiden championship until Berisha headed home a perfectly-weighted Thomas Broich free kick in the 86th minute.
The Roar, with the fresher legs, then went on with the job in extra-time and secured a record third championship in four seasons when Henrique scored the match-winner in the 108th minute.
It was a matter of lightning striking for the third time – all three titles have come courtesy of two thrilling comeback goals. While Johnny Warren Medallist Thomas Broich was at his scheming best to be the player of the gripping grand final, it was Berisha who continually brought the jam-packed 51,153-strong crowd to their feet.
The victory brought back vivid memories of the Roar’s previous championship victory when the fiery striker gained the equaliser against Perth Glory in the 85th minute of the 2011-12 decider.
Berisha was also the man who ensured the premiers would host this grand final with a stunning solo goal in Brisbane’s 1-0 semi-final win over the Victory last weekend.
“I had such a good time here and to finish like this is fantastic and Brisbane I love you so much,” he said with tears streaming down his face.
“Always to the end we fight together.”
While the fairytale came true for the Roar’s most prolific goal-scorer, it was another sad anti-climax for the Wanderers who suffered their second straight grand final heartbreak.
Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic admitted his club’s second straight A-League grand final defeat was more heart-breaking than the upset loss in their debut season.
Popovic cut a desolate figure after Brisbane Roar’s extra-time triumph.
Unlike last year’s 2-0 defeat to Central Coast, the Wanderers – who took the lead with a Matthew Spiranovic header in the 56th minute – were the better side for a large part of the captivating and tense decider.
“I feel worse this year personally because I felt last year we weren’t good enough, but I thought this year that we were,” Popovic said.
“I thought that today we dominated, right up until the (final) goal.
“It’s tough one … but I’m very proud of the group this year.”
The Wanderers were left to rue a knee injury to skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley and a golden missed chance to Labinot Haliti in extra time.
Topor-Stanley, who took the arm-band with Michael Beauchamp a noticeable omission, suffered a suspected medial ligament tear in tackling Besart Berisha just after Spiranovic’s goal.
With no Beauchamp, or any other defender on the bench, Western Sydney’s most influential player Iacopo La Rocca was forced from the midfield into the backline.
“It just changed things, just changed the dynamic of the game,” Popovic said. “I thought La Rocca controlled things in the midfield.
“It kind of gave them the ascendancy after that goal.”
Topor-Stanley will now undergo scans but is no chance of playing their round of 16 Asian Champions League match in Japan on Wednesday night.
Berisha’s late equaliser always meant the fresher Roar had the inside running for victory but Haliti wasted a gilt-edged opportunity seven minutes into extra-time.
Instead, it was Henrique who was the Roar’s super-sub again, scoring his second extra-time goal in his third grand final.
“There was going to be one moment in extra-time to win the match,” Popovic said. “I thought we had that moment.
“That certainly would have changed everything.”
The Wanderers fans, who marched en mass from nearby Caxton Street to the ground, were smaller in number at 10,000 but still louder in voice than the Orange Army and chanted right down to the final whistle.
“It’s disappointing for them to go home like that again,” Popovic said.
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