Ante Milicic admits Macarthur FC are a different beast when Markel Susaeta is in the team after the Spanish ace returned to inspire the Bulls to beat Melbourne Victory.
Susaeta had not started during Macarthur's five-match winless streak but the 33-year-old was back in the line-up for Wednesday's clash at AAMI Park, and slammed in the equaliser as the Bulls came from behind to claim a 2-1 win.
The former La Liga star was afforded only 65 minutes while he works his way back to full fitness but made enough impact during that time to convince Milicic that there is even better to come.
After the ex-Spain international was replaced, his compatriot Beñat Etxebarria delivered his second assist of the game for James Meredith to head an 69th-minute winner which saw the Bulls surge from seventh to third place as the race for the A-League Finals Series hots up.
"[Susaeta] brings a lot because we won three in a row and then he goes out of the side and then we don’t win," Milicic said.
"Is that a coincidence? …it’s like [Marco] Rojas out for Victory. If he’s not out all of those weeks, if he’s fit, I’m sure their results improve or their performances."
"What Susa does for us is he gives us that calmness and that quality.
"You can talk about his goal but he lifts the others.
"Beñat is a different player with Susa on the field and that’s normal.
"Our plan was always for him to play 60. The game was in the balance and it’s difficult.
"It’s easy in the heat of the game to leave him on for another 10 but I’d rather come up with a plan before the game...
"It’s more important that he’s fit, gets another week of training under his belt, and he’ll be even better for our next game against Victory."
The sides meet again as the Bulls welcome Victory to Campbelltown Stadium a week on Friday, and Milicic admits improvements are needed for the competition newcomers to reach the level of performance he expects.
"In particularly, first half, we struggled with some parts of the game but to go a goal down and then to come back from that and to get three points against a difficult opponent is pleasing – but we knew we have to get better in a lot of areas."
"We’re going ok but in the end sometimes you don’t play your best football and you get the points at that the main thing for us."
Interim coach Steve Kean believes he saw some of Victory's best attacking football of recent times during the first half but was left ruing the fact that the scores remained level at the interval.
"If we’d have got a point, I’d have been disappointed. Not to get anything is incredibly disappointing," Kean said.
"I think first half is probably the best we’ve played in the last four or five matches as far as creating chances.
"The disappointing things is we never took them because the game, in all honesty, should be finished at half-time.
"I thought we were excellent first half and we should be out of sight by the time the half-time whistle blows.
"And then we give too many set plays away in the second half. They are a powerful, tall athletic side and they were causing us problems from the set plays."
Next fixture – Matchweek 21
Macarthur FC v Melbourne Victory
Friday, 14 May 2021
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST