The Tony Popovic era at Melbourne Victory has started on a high note with stand-in captain Roderick Miranda proving the unlikely hero in a dramatic 1-0 win over Western United.
Miranda headed Victory in front in the 76th minute before United captain Alessandro Diamanti was contentiously denied a penalty in the 82nd in front of 8,120 fans at GMHBA Stadium.
Popovic delighted in Victory's first opening round win since 2014-15, which was also his first winning start to an A-League Men campaign.
"We didn't play so well in the first half. I felt we were poor but we stayed in the game," he said. "It was a tough first half of football for both teams. We haven't played in so long, it's our first competitive game.
"So, scrappy at times but happy that we were solid as a unit. Second half I thought we improved and combined a lot better, moved the ball better and looked more of a threat. So, overall a 1-0 win and delighted away from home. I've never won round one as a coach. So it's a first for me. When we say we needed lift-off, well it's a first for me as well."
Eight of Victory's starting XI were new recruits, while Western United included five fresh faces. Portuguese centre-back Miranda was handed the armband after Kosh Brillante was ruled out, with a hamstring niggle, after a fitness test on Saturday morning.
Popovic was optimistic Brillante would be available for next Sunday's clash with Brisbane Roar but less confident on Wednesday's FFA Cup play-off against Perth Glory.
Victory took the lead when Jake Brimmer whipped in a lovely corner to the near post and Miranda rose highest to beat United goalkeeper Jamie Young with a well-placed header.
Seven minutes later, Diamanti took on Jason Davidson and went down in the area after the Victory defender appeared to catch him with his back leg. But no penalty was forthcoming and Victory held on.
"From where I was, you can see the way that Diamanti beat him and the defender turns his back with these legs out," United coach John Aloisi said. "All I can say is that Diamanti and the players around him were adamant it was a penalty. But I'm not here to talk about whether it was a penalty or not a penalty. We have to live with the decision and sometimes they'll go for you, sometimes against you."
Aloisi felt United didn't deserve to lose the game but expected improvement to come, and enjoyed his ALM return - bar the result.
"I'll be honest, with you - I hate losing. So I didn't enjoy that bit at all. I can tell you now it's still burning me inside. I'm probably putting on a brave face," he joked. "That's part of football: you have your ups and downs."