When Gold Coast United entered the A-League, their billionaire owner confidently predicted instant success, saying he thought an unbeaten season would see his team crowned champions. It wasn’t to be, a finals series defeat on penalties seeing them end trophyless after finishing third in the table.

Come their second season things have changed. Gone are the bold predictions and gone is the attacking gusto. The departure of Shane Smeltz left an attacking hole in the team and their current seventh position is nothing spectacular, but they are one point off third and are displaying a new attitude to games; Gold Coast might yet be better placed for success even if there’s a backdrop of concern about their future.

Round eight in Australia’s top flight saw the side travel to Sydney and go behind after Sydney FC striker Bruno Cazarine headed in from a corner. Heads didn’t drop though and Gold Coast continued to play their game, and in stoppage time of the first half drew level after Bruce Djite headed in his first goal for the Queensland outfit. Djite has been the subject of much speculation, not least because of his less than stellar scoring rate.

When the striker left Adelaide United for the riches of European football, pitching his tent at Genclirbirligi in Turkey, a return of just six goals in 34 appearances showed Djite wasn’t quite ready for that level. Obviously rating himself highly, Djite said on his return to Australia, "I am still young and I can come home and leave again… This move is all about me trying to get back on the radar again."

Needless to say he is not quite back on the radar yet, but this goal should give him confidence and if he can start making more astute runs to take advantage of the vision of team-mate Jason Culina, who enjoyed a fine career in European football, it isn’t hard to imagine he’ll have more goals soon.

However, it is at the other end of the pitch that the American-born Australian has been most help, tracking back to tackle, helping out at corners and free kicks and giving the whole team more balance. By dropping back, Djite is also giving his midfield the space and time to launch new attacks and this has not gone unnoticed. "When Bruce is playing defensively we’re a much better unit, and that is credit to him." said coach Miron Bleiberg. He was also keen to point out that Gold Coast had only conceded once in four games.

It’s true too that the big turning point of the match was a moment of madness from defender John Curtis, who came on in the 67th minute and a minute later jumped with his arm leading in to Hirofumi Moriyasu’s face, getting a straight red card. What followed saw Gold Coast protect their point and Sydney were unable to break them down, despite hitting the post and having a goal rightly disallowed after play was stopped for a foul.

Sydney’s problems are across the pitch, but coach Viteslaz Lavicka may be on to something when he put forward the idea that an inability to score more than one goal was costing the current champions. The 1-1 draw with Gold Coast was backed up midweek by another 1-1 draw, this time against North Queensland Fury where David Williams scored in the second half to consign the Blues to just four points out of a possible 24 so far this season. Lavicka’s position, inevitably, is no longer secure, although having won the double in his first season with the club, should have some degree of protection from any snap decisions.

Perth Glory’s strong start has faded somewhat after they lost 2-0 to league leaders Adelaide United who remain unbeaten, six points clear at the top and looking likeliest to win the league at this point. But, with just two points separating positions two to seven, it’s far too close to draw any conclusions about the chasing pack.

Second placed Brisbane Roar put in the display of the round, annihilating Melbourne Heart 4-0 with a performance that included a rare goal from striker Reinaldo. The Heart are not looking in fine fettle and did have the much anticipated Melbourne derby with against Melbourne Victory on their mind, but fate has intervened and the AFL Grand Final replay being played at the same time has seen the clash pushed back a week. Hopefully this will give Heart manager John van‘t Schip a chance to steady his ship, since his players looked out of energy as well as ideas in the hammering.

Melbourne Victory could only muster a 0-0 draw with Newcastle Jets, but the week off gives them the chance of having mercurial skipper Kevin Muscat back in the team – as well as Grant Brebner – which should give the game extra spice.

Over in New Zealand, Wellington Phoenix continued their strong home form with a 2-1 win over North Queensland Fury thanks to early goals from Chris Greenacre and Leo Bertos, and it is they who next play Gold Coast United at Skilled Park. Unable to win on the road so far this season, they will need a bit of luck to get anything out of this game, with Jason Culina suggesting that their measured approach would not be carried through to home matches. “Last season we tended to go and just try and dominate and outclass everybody. And this season we’ve just come back a little bit and play a little bit more conservative, a little bit smarter. But that said, at home, it’s all out attack, the way we know how to play.”

With a tight competition, Gold Coast are looking like a solid choice for a finals berth and look able to beat anyone on their day. With Djite now officially a scoring striker, they could soon shoot up the league, but record low crowds may yet undermine their push. It’s somehow just hard to imagine the least supported team in the league being realistic title contenders.