Perth Glory may have finally found the formula to make a genuine bid for the A-League championship, although their elimination final win must be tempered by the insipid nature of Melbourne City's performance.
Glory produced a brilliant counterattacking display in the first half of Sunday's final at AAMI Park with Diego Castro and Joel Chianese scoring in the opening half-hour to set up the visitors' 2-0 win.
Having blitzed City before the break, Perth exhibited the type of grit and defensive solidity that has been missing in 2016-17, keeping the hosts' much-vaunted attack quiet to secure a semi-final meeting with A-League premiers Sydney FC on Saturday night.
Glory finished the regular season having scored and conceded 53 goals in 27 rounds to have the second-best and equal worst attacking and defensive records, respectively, in the competition.
But having worked on developing a more expansive style over the past two seasons, Perth coach Kenny Lowe has seemingly decided that playing to his team's counterattacking strengths - as Glory did in 2014-15 when a salary cap breach cost them a shot at the title - is the way to go in the finals.
"It's something we've been working on, obviously coming into the finals series," Glory captain Rostyn Griffiths told Goal after the win in Melbourne.
"We know we've been capable of scoring goals all season and we just sort of thought if we could shut up shop a little bit better and be a little bit more solid it'd be super dangerous come the finals series."
Perth striker Andy Keogh added: "We've always been good on the counter, so we play to our strengths."
In a competition where almost every side prioritises the ability to attack in transition, Glory are arguably one of the best, with Castro at the heart of Lowe's forward set-up.
The Spaniard had the first shot of the elimination final against City, according to Opta, with his 16th-minute strike beating Dean Bouzanis after the home side's defence inexplicably allowed him space and time to shoot.
Diego Castro, Perth Glory
That goal effectively involved two passes - Griffiths' aerial release to Keogh and the latter's lay-off to Castro - while Chianese's effort in the 30th minute came after Perth's Spanish playmaker intercepted Michael Jakobsen's poor ball out of defence, burst forward and then fed his fellow winger in the box.
It is that efficiency in possession that could cause Sydney problems at Allianz Stadium, although the Sky Blues will certainly put up more resistance than City.
Sydney have proved that they work harder and for longer than any A-League team this season as they have set record after record.
But it could be argued Graham Arnold's men from the Harbour City are somewhat slow starters - Sydney have scored just 16 per cent of their goals in the opening 30 minutes of games this term, while they have conceded double the amount before half-time compared to the second half.
The first goal will be critical as the Sky Blues haven't lost (17 wins, 2 draws) when they have opened the scoring this season.
Glory's pressing caused City all kinds of problems in the first half but Lowe will need to find a way to break down Sydney's counter-press, which has been critical to Arnold's success in 2016-17.
The reasons to doubt Glory's ability to challenge the Sky Blues are that they barely attacked in the second half versus City; they have lost four matches in all competitions to Sydney this season for an aggregate score of 13-2, and the complete lack of intensity from Michael Valkanis' team on Sunday.
After yet another campaign that has failed to live up to expectations, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that City peaked in their Round 2 demolition of Melbourne Victory at Etihad Stadium.
While Bruno Fornaroli and Co. went on to lift the FFA Cup in November, it was that performance in October that was so tantalising, ensuring most pundits weren't willing to write City off - at least publicly - before the finals despite a run of just six wins in 19 matches after claiming that trophy.
In the third season since City Football Group (CFG) took over the club previously known as Melbourne Heart, the Australian outpost has been eliminated from the A-League finals a week earlier than the previous two campaigns.
Luke Brattan, Melbourne City
This isn't good enough and Keogh summed up City's failings expertly with this brutal assessment post-match.
"You can be very pretty on the ball but if you don't have that little bit of anger inside you, that little bit of malice, you won't really get anywhere, and there a lot of players in that team [City] that just like to do it for themselves and it shows," the Irishman said.
"We showed today that we're not a team of individuals, we're a team together and we defended and attacked together tonight."
City had more of the ball (58.8% possession, 442-327 passes, 40-20 penalty-area entries) but just two of their 12 shots tested Glory goalkeeper Liam Reddy, while Perth hit the target with all six of their efforts on goal.
To underline the feeling that the home side were often second to the ball, they won just 43.8 per cent of duels and conceded more than double the amount of fouls.
The enigma that is City continues to exasperate the majority of A-League fans and pundits.
On the one hand, CFG has set the bar high with a training facility the envy of the competition and a noble - and successful - focus on women's football.
On the other, a lack of ruthlessness - highlighted by CFG's unwillingness to properly replace ex-coach John van 't Schip when he left in January to spend time with his dying father - has seen City continue to produce mediocre on-field results.
Valkanis has shown little to suggest he is the man to take City forward next season after stepping into the shoes of JVS for the final few months of 2016-17, while the club's recruitment of aging and/or average defenders like Josh Rose, Manny Muscat and Osama Malik is holding them back.
CFG could effectively sign three players outside the salary cap to dwarf the rest of the A-League but continue to treat Melbourne City like the much poorer cousin of New York City in MLS.
But it is the ongoing doubts surrounding the culture of the playing squad that will continue to plague City until they produce a genuine tilt at the A-League championship.
Tim Cahill, Melbourne City
It was notable that captain Fornaroli avoided the mixed zone on Sunday.
It was left up to Ivan Franjic and Malik, plus the three substitutes Luke Brattan, Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres, to front the media.
There is no doubt hard questions need to be asked at City's Bundoora base - not to mention in Abu Dhabi and Manchester - but some of the club's fans may wonder who will be willing to ask them.
CORRECTION: This article was amended to remove the incorrect declaration that Tim Cahill and Michael Jakobsen didn't speak to journalists in the mixed zone.