A weakened Brisbane Roar have broken the hearts of Gold Coast United with a late goal to seal a 2-1 victory at Skilled Park on Sunday night in an emotion-charged A-League match.
The match looked set for a 1-1 draw after the Roar's Albanian international Besart Berisha squandered a golden chance in the 86th minute when he sprayed a shot over the bar from point-blank range.
A goal would have boosted Berisha past the season-record of 19 set by ex-Gold Coast United marksman Shane Smeltz in 2009-10.
But substitute George Lambadaridis rocketed a powerful drive into the top corner of the net in the 90th minute to ensure United ended potentially their final match with a shattering loss.
The clash was virtually meaningless for the second-placed Roar, who were denied the chance to claim the Premiers Plate after Central Coast defeated Wellington Phoenix 2-1 in Sunday's early match.
But wooden spooners United were desperate to end a disappointing season on a positive note, with the high likelihood the club won't be part of the A-League next season.
The Roar rested six regular players from their last A-League clash, a 2-1 win over Newcastle, although Bahraini defender Mohamed Adnan (knee) had been ruled out in the lead-up.
The others omitted were goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos, captain Matt Smith, strike weapon Mitch Nichols, defender Ivan Franjic and German talisman Thomas Broich - a fair chunk of experience and talent.
Coach Ange Postecoglou has one eye fixed on the first leg of the major semi-final against Central Coast at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday and the other on his club's Asian Champions League campaign, which continues on Wednesday, April 4 in South Korea.
Postecoglou admitted the mood was "pretty flat" going into the match knowing the Roar couldn't win the Premiers Plate.
"We were pretty disappointed we didn't get the chance to defend the Premiers Plate," he said.
"It was fairly flat and we had to refocus the boys to make sure we finished off the season positively.
"That's was one of our objectives at the start of the year, to finish first, and we failed."
United were playing for pride - in front of 6,102 mostly Roar supporters - and for new contracts for those players who might be left without jobs.
Football Federation Australia is examining the merits of a new consortium's bid to take over the A-League licence which was stripped from maverick billionaire owner Clive Palmer late last month.
"Losing in the 90th minute, it goes to prove you have to play the game right out," United coach Mike Mulvey said.
"It's a measure of who we were playing against because they are the best team in the country.
"We're gutted we lost the game, not because it's the last game but because we've got that mentality where we want to win."
Postecoglou's mass changes in the line-up seemed to throw the Roar, who were content to simply retain possession without creating any clear-cut chances in a lacklustre first half.
United made them pay for their slow start, with Peter Jungschlager's pinpoint long ball finding an unmarked Daniel Bowles, who slammed the ball past the Roar's No.2 goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne in the 29th minute.
United keeper Jarrad Tyson made two excellent saves in the opening half to deny Brazilian sharpshooter Henrique, who looked most likely to prise the Coast's defence open.
The Roar equalised in the 58th minute through substitute Nick Fitzgerald, who showed good footwork to drive a low shot from just inside the box past the diving Tyson.