After a first win in nine games Melbourne Heart coach John van 't Schip is hoping the defeat of Gold Coast United proves to be the catalyst for a late-season run into the Hyundai A-League finals.
After a first win in nine games Melbourne Heart coach John van 't Schip is hoping the defeat of Gold Coast United proves to be the catalyst for a late-season run into the A-League finals.
The Heart struggled at times against a side made up largely of Youth League players and didn't go ahead until Eli Babalj's 80th-minute strike.
However, van 't Schip defended his side, who welcomed back captain Fred, insisting the performance was one of hard work, typical of a 'must-win' match.
"The performance I think was not that bad at all, seeing the tension that was on this game that we had to deal with, knowing that everybody expected us to win with Gold Coast having a few younger players in the team. It always looks easier from the outside," van 't Schip said.
"The three points everybody knows is the most important thing, in this last few games it's about collecting points, coming from that eight games not winning," he said.
"This is the game we knew we had to win. Because all the opponents are passing us (on the table) or are near. (If we did not win this game) we knew it would be very difficult, we are close (to finals) but not there yet, everything is still possible."
After bolting up to second on the ladder in late December, Fred's absence coincided with a rapid decline in the Heart's fortune.
Last week's loss to Newcastle saw the club slump to sixth, on the precipice of the last finals spot, but with three valuable points now in the bag, the Heart can look ahead once again.
"Fred is of course back. Matt Thompson (returned as a substitute) is going to have nine days now that he can train till the next game, we're getting players back, we're getting more depth in the squad and that will certainly help us."
Without a goal heading into the final half hour, van 't Schip was forced to roll the dice with all three substitutes coming on, knowing only a win was good enough.
"We had to win, we had not scheduled (to play) Fred for 90 minutes but you have to take risks, we asked him how he was feeling, every time we saw the thumb going up… but sometimes we don't know with Fred what that means. A few times before he did that and he was injured," he joked.
With key Olyroos' members - Aziz Behich, Matt Hoffman and Mate Dugandzic - set to boost the side when they return in the coming weeks, van 't Schip had more than one reason to believe they can make a mark, should they make the finals.
"It means a lot (the Olyroos players' returns) because it means the whole squad will feel again that we're strong, 'we have to fight for our own position to get into the team'. If everyone's there we can have a very strong line-up and a strong bench."
Van 't Schip was quick to praise young left-back Craig Goodwin, who is deputising for Behich, and goal scorer Babalj.
"Looking at the performance of Goodwin again today he did very well he's (played) an excellent three games and we're happy that he is helping us out, he is showing that he can easily be part of the team."
"Eli (Babalj) was good when he came on, he was sharp, ready, very aggressive. He showed coming from the bench that he had a very big impact and that's what we want when we have players coming from the bench," he said.