There was little riding on the result of Tuesday night's Asian Champions League clash for Melbourne Victory but coach Kevin Muscat might just have found the key to their A-League finals hopes.
The return to form and fitness of Terry Antonis.
Antonis was a standout in Victory's 1-1 draw with Guangzhou Evergrande at AAMI Park, where Jai Ingham scored to cancel out Huang Bowen's first-half opener.
The 25-year-old Antonis dictated the pace in midfield and almost scored from a pair of long-range bullet shots.
Given James Troisi has a possibly season-ending hamstring tear, Antonis's leap to centre stage is a blessing for Victory.
It was just 18 days ago that Antonis lay on the decrepit SCG turf, fearing he'd ruptured his ACL.
"It was a scare but it's in the past," Antonis said.
"All the boys have been around me, the boss, medical department.
"The main thing is now, there's nothing wrong with me. I'm getting fit each week.
"Being there for the team, we've got to get going forward to the semis."
Victory's Champions League failure means their remaining games and this weekend's round 27 trip to Western Sydney are effectively training hit-outs for their A-League finals campaign.
It's for that reason that coach Kevin Muscat rotated his side, sparing six senior players from Tuesday's match.
He maintained that each match was important for reasons beyond the scoreline, and was delighted by the response from his fringe players fighting for a first-term role.
"Tonight it was very pleasing," Muscat said.
Muscat forecast changes for the Wanderers clash but didn't want a change in intensity.
"Clearly a lot of the players that played tonight, it will be difficult to ask them to back up ... so we'll change the squad again," he said.
"The challenge is laid down for anyone that didn't play tonight to bring that sort of commitment and that sort of effort."
Australian Associated Press