The equation is simple for Adelaide. Win, and the wooden spoon belongs to Gold Coast United.
Date: Friday 23 March, 2012 Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT, 7.30pm local Venue: Hindmarsh Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 5 Wins: Adelaide 3, Heart 2, Draws: 1
Previous encounter Adelaide 3, Heart 1, 4 January 2012
History: While these two sides don't have an awful lot of history between them, there's been some exciting clashes. Two of their three games last season featured late winners - first, in their debut contest against one another, Iain Ramsay was the hero for Adelaide, while their third battle of the campaign saw veteran Heart stars Simon Colosimo and John Aloisi strike right at the death to steal a miraculous 2-1 win at Hindmarsh. This season's matches began with a 1-1 draw, followed by a tidy little 3-1 triumph for United just a few days into the new year. With something on the line for both sides here, there's no reason why this game shouldn't be one to watch.
Form: Past five matches: Adelaide: LWDLW Heart: WWDDD
Summary of form: From the wreckage of an awful A-League season, Adelaide are on the verge of salvaging something pretty special. Their bright start in the AFC Champions League has given the side a sense of renewed hope, and with wins over Bunyodkor and Gamba Osaka, it's justified. While they remain at risk of the wooden spoon if they lose at home here, the Reds have reset their game plan over the past few weeks and are now using a 4-1-4-1 designed to frustrate the opposition. At the other end, they've been finding the back of the net when they've needed to, so it's working well enough.
The Heart are in a nice little groove - they're not world-beaters, but it'll certainly take a good team to beat them. Undefeated in five games, they were held by Sydney in their last start, but before that the red and whites took on three of the competition's best-performing clubs and grabbed some terrific results. Starting with a 1-0 win over Central Coast, the Heart drew 1-1 away to Brisbane and then at home against a notoriously stubborn Wellington. That's not bad for a young side who've never played finals before.
Match Committee: The Heart have a clean bill of health heading into this one, which means John van 't Schip may be fancying his chances. Adelaide's only injury concern is Spase Dilevski (groin), who is an ongoing proposition. Fabian Barbiero won't play this week - he's still suspended for another two A-League matches. But aside from those two, the Reds also have a full squad to pick from.
Danger men: Daniel Mullen - Usually a reliable and hard-working defender, Mullen has started to show some welcome ability at the other end of the park in set-piece situations. He struck a double in Adelaide's latest win in the ACL, with both goals headed past a flat Gamba Osaka defence. The Heart should be wary if they concede any free kicks deep in their own half against the Reds.
Eli Babalj - The Heart's young target man has developed a knack for scoring at the right time this season. A good chunk of his eight goals have come at stages during matches where the result was in the balance, and the influence of a clutch performer like Babalj can only help the Melbourne side in their inaugural finals campaign.
At the end of the day… The equation is simple for Adelaide. Win, and the wooden spoon belongs to Gold Coast. Lose, and there's a possibility the dreaded mythical utensil will be bound for South Australia. But does John Kosmina care either way? He's already admitted the club's focus has shifted to the AFC Champions League, and with little to play for but pride in the A-League, he has his reasons. Will we see Adelaide at their finest? It doesn't look likely.
And it doesn't seem like Melbourne Heart mind. Their fate is sealed - they're in the finals, win, lose or draw. However, they can have a say in which marathon road trip they want to take on in the first week of the major round. Three points in Adelaide will mean they're off to Perth - but if they lose, and if Sydney's match with Newcastle doesn't end in a draw, then it's off to the Ring of Fire in Wellington. That's a bit of a Sophie's Choice, isn't it?
So on Friday night, we could see two teams fumbling their way through a game that's ultimately inconsequential. Or we could be set for a classic, given neither team is relying on a result. All they need is a good run-out - Adelaide are still preparing for four more ACL games, remember, while the Heart will be wanting to go deep in the finals. It sounds like this game has draw written all over it.