Berisha brings up ton as Victory sneaks win
BESART Berisha has carved a reputation for delivering in key moments and Friday night could prove decisive.
With 10 minutes left, the game was scoreless and Melbourne Victory was in danger zone, threatening to enter the A-League finals series winless and goal-less in four games, or more than six hours to be exact.
Then Berisha, the biggest of big-game players, stepped up to score what could prove to be the most vital goal of Victory's regular season, securing a 1-0 win over plucky Central Coast.
It was also Berisha's 100th A-League goal, underlining why he will go down as one of the greats, and he was overcome by emotion in front of 14,827 delighted AAMI Park fans.
Berisha wrapped Jai Ingham in a big bear hug after the sub passed instead of shooting, which he had every right of doing, leaving him with the simplest of taps ins before running over to coach Kevin Muscat giving him a similarly warm embrace.
The milestone clearly meant a lot to Berisha, but he would've been just as aware of the significance of the goal - despite its simplicity - for second place but stuttering Victory on the eve of finals.
Berisha's goal sparked Victory into life, albeit for the final 10 minutes plus stoppage time, but with a week off before hosting a semi-final the timing was impeccable.
It was a bizarre game, with Victory knowing momentum was needed, but players perhaps exercising sub-conscious caution wanting to avoid injury or, in Alan Baro's case suspension as he was one booking away from missing a game and he was clearly cautious with his tackles.
James Donachie and Nick Ansell have rotated all season, but the former was preferred last night indicating he'll be first choice for the finals.
Donachie was tested though, as Roy O'Donovan evaded his sliding tackle which enabled him to be one on one with Lawrence Thomas but the keeper stood tall.
Most Victory attacks went through James Troisi, who tried an audacious lob of the keeper on 12 minutes before a stunning curling striker was tipped over by keeper Paul Izzo just before the break.
The second half had far more zing than the first, and the Mariners gave as good as they got, suggesting positive signs for next season.
Thomas raced off his line in the 58th minute to help Donachie close down O'Donovan and got there in the nick of time. Just.
Berisha's goal changed the game and the floodgates threatened to open as Troisi struck the upright before the former blasted straight into keeper Paul Izzo.