It was hard luck on a Victory side who have now lost five games on the spin – the worst run in the club’s history – but few would deny that the Mariners deserved to get at least a point if not more out of this contest.
Their veteran striker Matt Simon rolled back the years and showed why he has enough still left in the locker to carry on next season, while his teammates showed plenty of fight in their last game of the season.
At the other end of the age scale Simon’s youthful teammate Sammy Silvera buzzed brightly in the first half while Victory’s array of talented teens, spearheaded by Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio and Birkan Kirdar, continued to impress.
Brebner showed his faith in the former by starting him in a central role up front to deputise for injured Socceroos striker Andrew Nabbout, out with an ankle injury, while he recalled Elvis Kamsoba to the attack.
There was still no place in the starting line-up for import Migjen Basha, but at least the Albanian was on the bench on this occasion having been left out completely for the narrow loss to Brisbane on Saturday night.
Victory had a good early chance when Adama Traore played Marco Rojas through but the Kiwi international could not quite get to the pass, and not long afterwards Lawrie-Lattanzio and Kirdar linked up well to create a chance that neither could capitalise on.
Matt Acton has played every minute since Victory restarted and is determined to show why he should be Lawrence Thomas’ long-term replacement rather than just revert to the club’s back-up goalkeeper, as he has been for several years.
He did his cause no harm in the 18th minute when he did well to save a Simon header from a well-flighted Jack Clisby cross.
Simon, with his trademark bullocking style, was making more than just a nuisance of himself, and he almost put he Mariners in front two minutes later with a thumping free kick which he had earned for himself when, after shielding the ball on the edge of the area, he was fouled by Giancarlo Gallifuoco.
Simon’s fierce shot beat the defensive wall but Acton stayed strong and palmed the ball to safety for a corner.
But it was Victory who were to strike first with a goal that owed much to a howler by Mariners keeper Mark Birighitti.
Kirdar played a long ball through to Rojas, Birighitti came racing out of his area to clear, missed the ball completely and Rojas ran through on goal, evading the challenge of Kai Rowles to slot into an empty net.
Sammy Silvera fired over at the other end as the Mariners went in search of a leveller, and then Acton produced another compelling save, showing excellent reflexes to keep out Simon’s close-range volley from Clisby’s deflected cross.
The same two Mariners players combined again shortly afterwards only for Simon’s header to flash wide but Victory were under the cosh and hanging on for half-time.
They were lucky to go to the interval still in front after stoppage time, when Tommy Oar’s shot appeared to strike Leigh Broxham on the hand and from the rebound Silvera’s shot hit the post, ran along the goal line and was then cleared.
Alen Stajcic’s side got the equaliser they deserved two minutes into the second half from the unlikely source of Dylan Fox, netting his first A-League goal in his 50th match.
Victory failed to clear Milan Duric’s free kick and the ball fell to Fox, who poked home through the legs of opponents.
Gallifuoco had a gilt-edged chance to restore Victory’s lead in the 56th minute from a Rojas free kick but he could not get his free header on target, the ball flashing past the post.
Acton once again rescued his side with a close-range save to deny Fox in the 65th minute and from the breakaway Victory were back in front – once again through Rojas. The New Zealand international danced past Rowles’ challenge to open up the angle before angling his shot into the far corner of Birighitti’s goal.
It looked as though that would be enough – until Ruiz-Diaz rewrote the script in stunning style.
Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing