Luke DeVere is back and the talented defender could be a timely boost to Brisbane Roar's late season revival.
It has been nearly six weeks since the 25-year-old was a late January transfer window recruit in what was a popular homecoming for the former Roar favourite who played the last four years in South Korea.
With little match time under his belt when he arrived back in Brisbane, DeVere was well short of the fitness levels within the Roar squad after their punishing mid-season training regime during the three-week AFC Asian Cup break.
In only his second first-team start since his return, DeVere delivered a top-shelf performance for the Roar in their 1-0 AFC Champions League victory over Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan on Wednesday night.
He was dominant in the air, direct in his passing, precise in his tackling, but more significantly marked Urawa ace, Slovenian striker Zlatan Ljubijankic, out of the game.
"Luke had a great game. He was very strong in the air, showed good leadership and great organisation,"said Roar interim Head Coach Frans Thijssen.
"He is a lot fitter now and it is good he played the whole 90 minutes. We are now starting to see the real quality of his play."
DeVere said Wednesday night's game was intense against a dangerous Japanese side with the ability to counterattack quickly and punish any sloppy defence.
"We had to be solid and we were," DeVere said.
"We rode our luck here and there but to get the clean sheet was pretty rewarding,'' he said.
While 19-year-old goalscorer Brandon Borrello was named as the AFC player of the match, many pundits nominated DeVere as the best on the park. And that creates a pleasant selection dilemma for Thijssen.
Under the rotation system the club is using to manage a heavy workload of matches over the next six weeks Thijssen has said few, if any players will play all matches.
DeVere's partner in the central defence on Wednesday, former Socceroo Jade North has played all three games since last Wednesday – as have captain Matt McKay and fellow midfielders Thomas Broich and Luke Brattan.
Whether any of that talented group is rested on Sunday for the Roar's Hyundai A-League match against Western Sydney Wanderers at Suncorp Stadium remains to be seen.
Waiting in the wings for a start in the defence is the Roar's Olyroo squad member James Donachie who had made the No.5 his own since Thijssen took over in November. But DeVere's arrival adds to the Roar's aim of creating competition within the squad for every position.
Thijssen says he is more than happy to field any combination of DeVere, North and Donachie in the middle of the Roar back line.
"They are all quality players, tall, strong and good on the ball," Thijssen said.
"Which ever two we pick for Western Sydney will do the job as will whatever two we pick for the following week against Sydney FC.
"We planned for this when we went into the transfer market in January and it is now working out very well for the club."
DeVere said all the players in the Roar squad understand they have to fight for their positions and can be rotated irrespective of how they played in the previous match.
"With players coming back from injury and with myself, (and fellow recruits) Jerome (Polenz) and Andrija (Kaluderovic) add to the squad there a lot of competition for places," DeVere said.
"But the fact we can rotate the squad and be comfortable with whoever is playing is a good thing. We now have the mindset that there is no game we can't win irrespective of who is playing."
No new injuries emerged as the players did a pool recovery session in Urawa this morning. Although Henrique wasn't his sharpest on Wednesday night his 77 minutes on the field was a positive sign after hyper-extending his knee against Perth last weekend.
Goalkeeper Michael Theo is still on specialised training for a mild groin strain and a decision on his fitness will not be made until after the Roar return home and complete a training session on Saturday.
But with Jamie Young making several superb saves against Urawa in one of his best games for the club, the battle for the No.1 jersey could become interesting over the coming weeks.