Preview: Melbourne Heart v Central Coast Mariners
Played: 11 – Heart 1, Mariners 7, Drawn: 3
Mariners 0-0 Heart, January 5 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
Heart went agonisingly close to finding a winner in a 2-2 draw at home to the Phoenix last weekend, and now they find themselves six points outside the top six. With 12 points left to play for, they will need to win every game and hope a few of their rivals drop points.
The Mariners are unlikely to make it easy for them at AAMI Park, having shown plenty of fight at home and abroad in recent weeks. They will also be smarting from a frustrating 2-1 loss away to Beijing Guoan in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday. But fatigue from that trip may count in the hosts' favour.
The big issue:
Heart - Will John van't Schip's side receive as many gifts from the match officials on Sunday? Heart will be hoping they didn't use up all of their remaining good luck for the season against Wellington last weekend, having seen Ben Sigmund harshly sent off, Patrick Kisnorbo not penalised for a blatant handball inside the area and been awarded a generous penalty during a spectacular off-day for referee Ben Williams and his assistants.
Mariners - Fatigue must be taking its toll on the Central Coast squad. While the home side have a fully fit squad to choose from, the Mariners are without Adam Kwasnik, Marcos Flores and Michael Neill for the rest of the season. Michael McGlinchey is away on loan with Vegalta Sendai, and Hayden Morton is still a week away from returning to fitness. They do get Anthony Cacerers back from injury, but there are sure to be plenty of tired bodies after the long flight back from China.
The game breaker:
David Williams has proven himself to be a real danger man for Melbourne Heart this season. He netted twice against the Mariners at home back in October and has scored 11 goals in total this season. Two of those have come from the penalty spot, including one against the Phoenix last time out. Regardless of whether he plays through the middle or is deployed out wide, the Mariners' defence will need to be alert to the danger posed by Heart's Australian marquee player.
Prediction: Heart 2-1 Mariners
We expect a Heart team still clinging to the dream of earning an unlikely finals berth, and effectively playing for their future under reappointed coach Van 't Schip, to have too much for a Central Coast side worn out by a busy schedule. The away side can still pose a threat and may well get on the scoresheet, but a home win looks likely.