Heart hanging tough

Coach John van 't Schip believes Melbourne Heart are physically tougher to play against compared with the start of the season.

Coach John van 't Schip believes Melbourne Heart are physically tougher to play against compared with the start of the season.

The Heart have previously matched up poorly against the Hyundai A-League's more physical teams like Wellington and Perth but van 't Schip expects his side to overcome any rough-house tactics when they tackle the Phoenix on Friday night.

''We do have a lot of very young players sometimes on the pitch, and I know defensively they [Phoenix] are very strong with players like Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat who pushes forward. But we are stronger now too," van 't Schip said.

"We have all our players back (from international duty), so that makes us a stronger squad, a stronger team, and that's something you see at training especially. There's a big competition going on between the boys themselves."

"That's what pushes the level up higher and that's another sign to know that when we go out on the pitch the players are prepared and ready to play."

Third-placed Phoenix are five points and two places clear of the Heart so the match so at AAMI Park is a must-win with only three games left in the regular season.

The Heart have named an extended 18-man squad with Australian Under-23s Craig Goodwin and Jason Hoffman, along with striker David Williams back in the fold.

Van 't Schip said stopping Phoenix attackers Chris Greenacre and Paul Ifill would be a priority against Ricki Herbert's men.

"They're a team that has jelled very well during the season," van 't Schip said.

"Maybe, in the beginning, they had some things going on, players who were not fit maybe. But if you look at them now, Ifill is really in his best form after being injured for a few games."

"He's having a good partnership with Greenacre, who's a very experienced and smart player."

"Overall, it's a very experienced (Wellington) team that has the hunger to manage something, get in the playoffs and be a threat to all of the teams."

Van 't Schip said Heart's latest two results - a 1-1 draw with second-placed Brisbane Roar and a 1-0 win over leaders Central Coast Mariners - showed they were a team finding form at the right time.

"It is good that we are able to control our own position and concentrate on our own results, to be able to determine where we finish. We said at the start of the season that this was always our target, to get into the finals.''

"But it would be a shame if we talk about making a big improvement with a lot of players, but we didn't make the finals," he said.