Preview: Melbourne Heart v Sydney FC

The events surrounding the lead-up to this match will ensure there is plenty of feeling but the three points is all that matters.

Date: Sunday, February 24, 2013 Kick-off: 5pm AEDT Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Head-to-head: Played 8: Wins: Heart 2, Sydney 1, Draws: 5

Previous encounter: Sydney FC 2-1 Heart, January 13, 2013

Form: Past five matches: Heart: WLLWL Sydney FC: WLDWW

The Game: Their respective positions on the A-League ladder meant this was always going to be a big game but the whole saga surrounding Lucas Neill has only added further spice to this clash.

The Socceroos skipper looked set to join John Aloisi's side last weekend only for a last-minute change of (excuse the pun) heart seeing him join the Sky Blues. The decision infuriated Heart officials and fans and they are sure to let Neill know about it on Sunday afternoon.

But both sides will need to put that emotion to one side and focus on the result, with a potential finals berth on the line. Fifth-placed Sydney, who beat Adelaide 2-1 last weekend, hold the upper-hand with a three-point buffer on the eighth-placed Heart, who are coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Newcastle.

As well as Neill's availability, Sky Blues coach Frank Farina also has the luxury of calling on Joel Griffiths, Brett Emerton and Ali Abbas, who all return from suspension.

Heart are still without striker Josip Tadic, meaning Eli Babalj will continue to lead the line. New Dutch signing Marcel Meeuwis made his debut off the bench against the Jets but could push for a starting berth, as could skipper Fred, who made his return from injury last weekend.

Sydney have only ever beaten Heart once in eight previous meetings but that was in their last encounter, with late goals to Brett Emerton and Rhyan Grant giving the Sky Blues a 2-1 win.

The Big Issue Heart: Aloisi should have been working overtime this week on his side's finishing given their tendency to waste a host of good goal-scoring chances in recent weeks.

Even in the loss to Newcastle last round, the Heart still carved out some glorious opportunities but couldn't take them and it proved costly. With their top-six hopes on the line, they can't afford to be so wasteful against the Sky Blues.

Sydney: A little over a month ago Farina was struggling to field a competitive line-up given a raft of different injuries and suspensions. But he has an embarrassment of riches now, with the ability to bring in the likes of Neill, Emerton and Griffiths to a side that was so impressive last weekend.

The Sky Blues boss needs to decide whether to stick with his in-form youngsters or change a winning side by adding the class and experience at his disposal. It's a fine balance but one Farina must get right if Sydney are to make it three straight wins.

The Gamebreaker Lucas Neill: The 34-year-old defender may have never played a game in the A-League yet but so much about this match centres on him. How will the Heart react to his snubbing? How seamlessly will he slot into the Sky Blues line-up? What physical shape is he in?

There are plenty of questions surrounding Neill but there's no doubt he is a top-class professional. Just how well the Socceroos skipper handles all those things could go a long way to deciding the outcome of this match.

Prediction: Heart 1-1 Sydney The events surrounding the lead-up to this match will ensure there is plenty of feeling but the three points is all that matters.

Sydney are in better form than their hosts over the last month but Heart love playing at AAMI and will be desperate not to let the Sky Blues pull too far away from them on the ladder. Sydney wouldn't be disappointed to come away from Melbourne with a point and a defeat would spell disaster for the Heart. The draw looks the most likely result.