MELBOURNE Heart have continued their stunning recent resurgent run of form by defeating leaders Brisbane Roar 1-0 at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon.
Unable to win a game and proving to be cannon fodder for every other team in the competition during the first three months of the campaign, Heart have been transformed since John van 't Schip took over from the sacked John Aloisi in the last days of December.
Unbeaten since January 10, the narrow victory over the Roar - courtesy of Orlando Engelaar's strike in the 61st minute - was their fourth in succession and leaves them six points outside the finals places with eight rounds of the regular season remaining.
The Roar meanwhile are now just four points ahead of the second-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, with what appeared to be a tight grip on the Premier's Plate loosening after suffering consecutive defeats for the first time in 2013-14.
The hosts made just one change to the team that thrashed Wellington Phoenix 5-0 away from home a week ago, Patrick Gerhardt dropping back into defence to replace the suspended Robbie Wielaert and Jonatan Germano coming into the starting XI.
Roar coach Mike Mulvey axed three players after their surprise 1-0 loss at home to the Newcastle Jets. Dimitri Petratos, Diogo Ferreira and Steven Lustica were all omitted, Liam Miller, Matt McKay and Henrique taking their place.
Heart started brightly enough and enjoyed several presentable chances early on. Iain Ramsay had a good shot saved by Michael Theo, before David Williams narrowly failed to connect with Mate Dugandzic's inviting delivery to the near post.
A hopeful penalty appeal for handball against Shane Stefanutto was sandwiched between those two opportunities, but didn't interest referee Adam Kersey.
The Roar meanwhile, belying their status as league leaders and title favourites, struggled to mount a convincing attack. Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne was called on to save Thomas Broich's cross-cum-shot, and also gathered a dipping Luke Brattan free-kick, but the home side were otherwise untroubled.
Gerhardt entered the referee's notebook in first-half injury time, and a fifth booking of the season means he will be forced to sit out next Saturday's derby against Melbourne Victory.
The quality of the contest did not improve after the break, Heart having just two half-chances and Brisbane again failing to muster a foray forward.
The lethargy was finally broken on the hour mark, when Dugandzic cut in off the right flank, nutmegged Brattan and chipped a delicate pass to the back post, where Engelaar arrived to guide home a careful finish.
Other than the goal, a clear highlight of the game was the indirect free-kick awarded against Besart Berisha for obstruction. Heart failed to take advantage of the opportunity, but might have been awarded a penalty in the aftermath when Theo appeared to take away the legs of Dugandzic.
The hosts should have doubled their advantage from corners during the same 10-minute spell of dominance mid-way through the half, with Patrick Kisnorbo heading straight at the goalkeeper and substitute Nick Kalmar sending his effort narrowly over the bar.
Having failed to put the game away, Heart needed a last-ditch tackle from Kisnorbo injury time to prevent Berisha from equalising following a brilliant dribble into the penalty area.
As it was the Roar went home empty handed, and must aim to get back on track at home to Perth Glory next weekend, while the Heart will surely be brimming with confidence ahead the eagerly anticipated showdown with Victory.
Melbourne Heart 1 (Engelaar 61') def Brisbane Roar 0