Preview: Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Heart
Date: Friday 15 February, 2013
Kick-off: 7.3pm AEDT, 7.30pm local
Venue: Hunter Stadium
Played: 8 Wins: Newcastle 3, Heart 3, Draws: 2
Heart 2, Newcastle 1, 1 January 2013
Past five matches:
Melbourne Heart could rush new Dutch signing Marcel Meeuwis into their squad for the trip to play Newcastle Jets if the midfielder's clearance comes through on time. Meeuwis has been signed to fill the void left by Vince Grella's retirement, although last week's 2-0 victory over Perth Glory could mean Heart head coach John Aloisi opts for no change for Friday's journey north.
Having lost Grella, as well as defenders Aziz Behich and Michael Marrone, who have transferred overseas, Aloisi believes he needs more depth in midfield. Matt Thompson, Jonathan Germano and Nick Kalmar started as a midfield trio against Glory and impressed. But with Germano and Thompson both having previously played in defence, Aloisi may see their futures further back, with Meeuwis anchoring the midfield.
Jets head coach Gary van Egmond needs to turn his side's form around if they are to challenge the likes of Heart and Sydney FC, who sit fifth and sixth in the finals positions. Newcastle have not won in four matches. The solution may be to strengthen the defence, with Dominik Ritter (hamstring) and Taylor Regan (calf) both possible inclusions after stints out with injury having played in the Jets' NYL team last week.
The big issue
Jets - Despite not having won in four games, Newcastle have picked up six points in their past five matches. The Jets defeated Brisbane Roar 1-0 on January 12 before a run of three draws was broken last week with a loss to Western Sydney Wanderers. In that run, however, Newcastle have scored four of their five goals in the second half. What does Van Egmond have to do to get his team firing before half-time? If the Jets can find a way to lead at the break, it could be tough for Heart to fight back.
Heart - Heart moved into the top six last week courtesy of their home victory over Perth and with the return of striker Eli Babalj, who scored against the West Australians, Aloisi's team looks a decent shot at making the finals. But can the team from Melbourne's red half find a way to win outside Victoria? Heart have won just one 'away' match this season, the opening round derby at Etihad Stadium, but have only picked up one point outside Victoria; a 0-0 draw against Sydney FC. With four away games in the last seven rounds, Heart need to improve on the road to ensure they make the finals.
Eli Babalj - The 20-year-old striker's stint in Serbia may have gone badly but Babalj looks set to play a key role for Heart towards the end of this season. Heart are the lowest goal-scorers of any team in the top six but Babalj should make a difference with his 194-centimetre frame and ability to find space in the penalty area.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Heart.
Hunter Stadium is not a happy hunting ground for Heart. The men in red and white have only won once in Newcastle and with their poor away form this season, Heart will be happy to take anything they can from Friday night's clash.
Both teams have been very inconsistent this season with Heart having only claimed consecutive victories once, while Newcastle have gone on bursts. The Jets began the season with three wins from four but lost all but one of their five games in December.
In a match where both teams will hope to pick up points to improve their hopes of playing finals, a draw seems the likely outcome.