Perth Glory marquee striker Shane Smeltz marked his return from injury with a brace in a 3-0 win over 10-man Melbourne Heart at nib Stadium on Friday night.
Smeltz has made just five appearances this season and spent the past six weeks on the sidelines with ankle ligament damage.
But he produced a fine 20-minute cameo and struck twice in the final five minutes against Heart to confirm all three points for Glory after Adrian Zahra had given the home side the lead midway through the second half.
The result saw Glory move back into the top six at the expense of Sydney FC, who have a game in hand, and consigned Heart to a record-equalling 19th consecutive match without a win.
There was late drama when Heart substitute Dylan Macallister was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 82nd minute before Mate Dugandzic missed a golden opportunity to level the scores.
Smeltz capitalised to send the home crowd of 9045 into raptures.
Glory interim coach Kenny Lowe has two wins and a draw from four games in charge, including three clean sheets, despite having to deal with a string of injuries to senior players.
“The guys in the changing room have done really well the last four games,” Lowe said.
“I think the sending off changed the context of the game, but at the end of the day you’ve still got to win the game.
“Our work ethic, endeavor and desire to win, our desire to play, was really good.
“The young kids are just amazing me.”
Both sides had chances to open the scoring in the first half and Heart’s Iain Ramsay hit the crossbar, but the match remained scoreless at the break.
Zahra made the most of his third consecutive start, cutting in from the left flank in the 65th minute to drill a low right-foot shot into the far corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Smeltz replaced Isaka Cernak in the 74th minute and showed his class with two neat finishes.
Lowe said he would need to ease Smeltz back into the side and predicted the A-League’s all-time leading scorer could return to the starting line-up in 3-4 weeks.
“Not only did he score the goals, but his work ethic, he came in and he did super,” Lowe said.
“Goalscorers are important to football clubs and if you look at our goals scored and goals against, he’s very important.”
Glory marquee defender William Gallas missed a seventh straight match with a calf injury and it remains uncertain when he will return.
The former English Premier League star increased his workload with a personal trainer this week but is yet to join in regular training sessions with the main group.
Japanese winger Ryo Nagai will return to J-League club Cerezo Osaka this month after his loan deal with Glory was cut short by mutual consent.
Nagai’s departure opens an international roster spot for Glory, who have already signaled their intentions to bolster the squad during the transfer window.
Glory meet the A-League’s top three sides in the next three weeks with games against Brisbane (home), Western Sydney (away) and Melbourne Victory (home).