A-League Preview: Adelaide United v Melbourne Heart
Played: 11, Wins: Adelaide 5, Heart 2, Draws: 4
Adelaide 2-2 Heart, January 25, 2015
Past five matches:
Adelaide's 1-0 win away to Wellington Phoenix last Sunday, which came a day after Central Coast defeated Western Sydney and Melbourne Victory drew at home to Sydney FC, has seen the Reds come back into contention for a top-two finish. Josep Gombau's side are fourth on the table, one point behind the Wanderers and two back from the Mariners. After this they go away to finals-chasing Newcastle in the last round of the season, and will be keen to get maximum points from a Heart team with nothing tangible to play for, other than avoiding the wooden spoon.
The big issue:
Adelaide - The Reds huffed and puffed without hitting their free-flowing best at Westpac Stadium last weekend. Jeronimo Neumann and Sergio Cirio were both absent due to minor injuries, the latter especially was missed as Michael Zullo toiled without reward on the left flank. Awer Mabil looked lively when he came on, but Gombau will hope for a more convincing attacking performance on home soil.
Heart - How badly do Heart want to avoid collecting the wooden spoon? They looked set to do so with some degree of comfort a few weeks ago, but Perth Glory's late comeback at the expense of Newcastle Jets means the bottom two clubs are level on 25 points apiece. After Friday's game Heart are at home to Western Sydney in Round 27, while Glory host Central Coast and then travel to take on Sydney FC. Avoiding the ignominy of bringing up the rear in 2013-14 may mean derailing another team's end-of-season ambitions. Will it be Adelaide this weekend?
The game breaker:
Bruce Djite - The powerful centre-forward is a key component of Gombau's gameplan. He is required to occupy the attention of one or sometimes both centre-backs, hold the ball and bring wide attackers or deeper midfielders into play. He struggled to do so against Wellington, with the likes of Fabio Ferreira, Cameron Watson and Zullo relatively subdued at the Cake Tin. Heart have two uncompromising central defenders in Patrick Kisnorbo and Robbie Wielaert. Djite must win the battle with that pair in order to provide his colleagues with the space to get forward and pick off the visitors.
Prediction: Adelaide United 2-0 Melbourne Heart
We expect a Reds side with so much at stake to have far too much energy and commitment for Heart, playing for pride only, to handle. As Heart's unlikely tilt at the finals has faded, so has their threat in front of goal, with defensive lapses creeping in. In the three games before their unbeaten run ended, they scored 10 goals and didn't concede one. Since then, they have let in seven and scored just three times in four matches. There is only going to be one winner in South Australia this weekend.