Melbourne City coach Patrick Kisnorbo was delighted with the performance of his under-strength side despite slipping to a 1-0 defeat against Western United.
City are priced at 9/4 to win the A-League grand final and defend their 2021/22 title but they will need to get their star players back sooner rather than later.
City had to do without Jamie Maclaren, Mat Leckie, Marco Tilio, and Connor Metcalfe who are all on international duty with the Socceroos.
Fellow internationals Andrew Nabbout and Curtis Good also had to sit out the game through injury and Kisnorbo says all six players were badly missed.
Even so the City boss was very proud of the effort his players put in and says they gave a very good account of themselves against Western.
They had their chances particularly in the first half when Scott Jamieson forced a good save out of Western goalkeeper Jamie Young while Rostyn Griffiths hit the crossbar with a header.
But Western grabbed the winning goal when Steven Lustica finished from close range in the 71st minute.
"You talk about performance but you've got six Socceroos missing," Kisnorbo told reporters after the game. "I said it to the players, it's the best performance I've seen by a group. You take six players out of any team and you see what they deal with.
"I was really proud of the players. They adapted really well under every circumstance."