Melbourne get the Heart pumping


by Nick Sculley

There have been times this season when you could be forgiven for thinking that the Melbourne Heart were indeed the biggest club in the A-League, rather than their cross-town rivals.

However there has always been a missing link; whether it is their inability to put the Victory to the sword in their dominant round three encounter, or the Heart’s propensity to concede late when three points have been theirs to lose. On Saturday evening it looked like they had found yet another way to leave their potential unfulfilled after having 10 shots on goal to their opponent’s three in a scoreless first half.

Thankfully the Red and Whites were able to find their cutting-edge in the second half, putting three goals past Jets ‘Keeper Ben Kennedy in the process. Ironically all three goal-scorers, Fred, Mate Dugandzic and Aziz Behich, are the Heart’s only former Melbourne Victory players. Unfortunately for the Heart, just when they have a solid foundation to build their season upon, both Dugandzic and Behich will miss this week’s clash with Gold Coast United.

Along with Jason Hoffman the aforementioned players will be away on Olyroos duty whilst Alex Terra will miss at least a fortnight with a hamstring strain. These absences should lead to the first start for the 2011/12 A-League season for the impressive Eli Babalj. Babalj, a 55th minute substitute for the disappointing Maycon against the Jets, has had an injury-riddled start to the new campaign however he displayed enough in his time on the pitch to suggest that this could be a breakout year for the young Australian.

After Saturday’s victory coach John van’t Schip was quick to ease the expectations on Babalj, stating they will need to manage him carefully, but he could provide the focal point up-front the Heart have been screaming out for.

van’t Schip has had to enforce a near complete overhaul of his side’s game-plan in his second season. In their inaugural A-League campaign the Heart were often criticised for being one-dimensional; with the likes of Aloisi, Skoko and Sibon dictating the way those around them had to play. With the retirements of Aloisi and Skoko, and the departure of Sibon, it necessitated van’t Schip to make a change. Last season was a failure and the Heart needed to provide the Melbourne sporting public with a point of difference if they were going to survive.

The recruitment of former Victory fan favourite Fred, along with youngsters Dugandzic, David Williams and Curtis Good signalled van’t Schip’s and the Heart’s intentions to be the entertainers in the Melbourne football battle. This decision almost paid immediate dividends as the Heart dominated a pragmatic Victory outfit in week three of the season, only to fail to land the killer blow.

This progression will take time and there will be the odd letdown; the performance against the Perth Glory at home the following week is a case in point. Melbourne resorted to long balls following the injury to Fred and rarely troubled the Perth defence, infuriating a number of Heart fans in the process. What followed was exactly what the club doesn’t need; uneducated fans chanting for the removal of JVS. What he has done across the two seasons will take time but, for those that get on board for the ride, it may be bumpy but ultimately the Heart will get your blood pumping!

Follow me on Twitter @sculls_6


  1. Alovesupreme says

    Agree with you Nick! Heart have played well during most of their matches this season, but fatal lapses in concentration at the back have let in sucker goals in just about every match. As you also identify, the inability to capitalise on their general dominance has been costly.
    However, I share your encouragement with both the style of play and the fact that morale has not been sapped by the disappointing results (prior to last Saturday). Mentally strong sides persist when the roll of the dice isn’t falling their way, both within matches and across the season. I’m confident that the quality of Heart football can be maintained, and that will be enough to keep them in contention.

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