MELBOURNE Victory coach Jim Magilton was at a loss to explain why his team could put Wellington Phoenix to the sword in a 3-0 result on Friday night, just six days after their finals hopes were extinguished.
After starting the season with such high expectations following the arrival of plenty of attacking talent, including Socceroo Harry Kewell, Victory were put out of their misery when they were beaten by Sydney FC last weekend.
But perhaps, with the pressure lifted from their shoulders following that defeat knowing they had little left to lose, Victory brushed aside the seemingly finals-bound Phoenix thanks to goals from Carlos Hernandez, Isaka Cernak and Jimmy Jeggo.
And the loss could prove costly to Wellington's hopes of a home final, with the possibility that either or both of Melbourne Heart and Newcastle Jets could cut the gap to just two points with one round remaining.
While Magilton was obviously chuffed with the result, he insisted there had been nothing different about the preparation in comparison with previous weeks.
"Who knows," Magilton said when asked why his men couldn't produce such an effort sooner.
"The same consistent message is the same emphasis on passing the ball, same emphasis on the structure of the team, same emphasis on taking care of the ball, same emphasis on shutting the ball down and we were good," he said.
"We took real care of the ball tonight, looked threatening every time we went forward.
"We had hairy, scary moments against a really good side ... they're going to maybe exploit a few weaknesses in our side but overall (I'm) just really, really pleased.
"But yeah it's pleasing when you win 3-0 against a good side, it's encouraging, it's come a little bit too late but encouraging signs and again belief, belief grows."
Having missed the first half of the season because of injury, goalkeeper Tando Velaphi made his first appearance for the club in the Hyundai A-League after incumbent Ante Covic was rested.
And while he wasn't called on too often he did ensure a rare clean sheet was kept, especially in the 38th minute when he dived full length to deny a Tim Brown pile-driver launched at his far corner from 25m.
Rapt to have finally got his chance after biding his time in the National Youth League, Velaphi admitted having to deal with adversity has strengthened his character.
"I think going down probably a week-and-a-half before the season was pretty gut-wrenching for me," Velaphi said.
"I had a few setbacks along the way and it's probably been four months until I started playing in the youth team. It was a building block there and I really enjoyed my football.
"No pro wants to go and play in the youth (team) with kids but I really enjoyed it. I discovered how much I really enjoy football."
As for the debut off the bench of 17-year-old, Liberia-born Julius Davies, Magilton was encouraged but not getting carried away by the efforts of a player who has already had stints with Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim and had a hand in Jeggo's goal.
"We managed to get young Julius on, who livened things up prior to the game, in the game and I'm sure after the game," said Magilton, who is expected to soon be confirmed as Victory's permanent replacement for Mehmet Durakovic who was sacked in January.
"We bought him in early doors and he has been very good and he is a young player that has real potential. We have to nurture that, we have to make sure that we can develop him.
"We're certainly going to have to keep his feet on the ground, that's absolutely no doubt about that but he gets bums on seats and he is an exciting young talent.
"But certainly we're not getting carried away with him (and) tonight was about the whole team and how we stuck together tonight and played well as a team."