A-League: Melbourne Heart v Wellington Phoenix
Played: 11 – Heart 3, Phoenix 5, Drawn 3
Phoenix 0-5 Heart, February 16 2014
Past five matches:
Having seen their unbeaten run ended in a 1-0 reverse away to the Newcastle Jets last Saturday, Melbourne Heart are six points outside the top six with 15 points left to play for. But lose this one and their hopes of an unlikely playoff campaign will recede substantially.
The Phoenix are better placed, just three points off the sixth-placed Mariners, having been held to a 1-1 draw at home to Perth Glory last time out. Ernie Merrick's men also badly need maximum reward from this encounter to keep pushing for a finals berth. We're not at the stage yet where a defeat will spell the end of either team's post-season ambitions, but you can guarantee both sides will be going all out to claim the win.
The big issue:
Heart - If the red and whites are to have any chance of pulling off their finals miracle, they will need to respond to last weekend's defeat with a victory at the first attempt. It's by no means beyond their capability, as they demonstrated by seeing off several top quality sides during their five-match winning run. That sequence included a 5-0 thrashing of the Phoenix in Westpac, and although they surely can't repeat the scale of that win, John van 't Schip's players must draw on that emphatic triumph to put the New Zealand side away again on Sunday.
Phoenix - While the Heart have close to a clean bill of health, Wellington have been forced to battle a succession of injuries to important players in recent months, as well as losing personnel to suspension and juggling fatigue caused by New Zealand international duty for some members of the squad. Despite a disastrous 5-1 loss away to Adelaide two weeks ago, they remain in finals contention and can still have a say in the post-season reckoning, but they badly need to record what would be a first win in three attempts this weekend.
The game breaker:
Orlando Engelaar - the Dutch veteran produced a brilliant performance at the Cake Tin in Round 19, opening the scoring and dominating play for large parts of the game as Heart demolished the Phoenix in their own backyard. The international marquee has formed an excellent partnership with diminutive fellow midfielder Massimo Murdocca, and together the pair can again shut down Wellington's midfield, providing the hosts with the platform to win the game.
Prediction: Melbourne Heart 2-0 Wellington Phoenix
We expect Van 't Schip's team to be hurting after the narrow loss to the Jets and determined not to let an improbably glimpse of the finals slip from their collective sights at this late stage. The Phoenix are short staffed and also lacking momentum. If it clicks for the visitors they can certainly cause Heart problems, but the home side are likely to prove too hungry for the Kiwi outfit to get anything in this one.