Preview: Melbourne Heart v Wellington Phoenix

They've only met three times before and the spoils were split perfectly last season between Melbourne Heart and Wellington.

Date: Sunday, 4 December 2011 Kick-off: 3.00pm AEDT, 3.00pm local Venue: Latrobe City Stadium, Morwell

Head-to-head Played 3: Wins: Heart 1, Wellington 1, Draws: 1

Previous encounter Wellington 2, Heart 0, 24 November 2010

History: They've only met three times before and the spoils were split perfectly last season between Melbourne Heart and Wellington.

First, the Heart took three points in their first match against the Phoenix at AAMI Park. Three weeks later, they played out a pulsating 2-2 draw at Westpac Stadium, with Leo Bertos' goal on the hour mark rescuing a point for the hosts.

But the Kiwi club exacted revenge across the ditch last time they met, keeping the Heart scoreless for the first time with a Paul Ifill double doing the business.


Past five matches: Melbourne Heart: DDWWL Wellington: LLDDW

Summary of form: The Heart hadn't lost for five weeks until their 3-1 slump to Central Coast, but they won't be too upset by it - they looked quite good until some late fortune fell the Mariners' way. Last week, the Nix broke an eight-match winless run with a 2-1 result over Sydney, but they are still yet to take three points away from any fixture outside of windy Wellington this season.

Match Committee: It's good news for the red-and-whites - attacking pair Jason Hoffman and Mate Dugandzic are back from two weeks away with the Olyroos. Alex Terra is also set for a return from injury, while Wayne Srhoj is suspended and Simon Colosimo (knee) is touch and go.

The worst of the injury crisis looks over for Wellington after welcoming back Paul Ifill and Mirjan Pavlovic last week, but question marks remain over Spanish playmaker Dani Sanchez.

Danger men:

Mate Dugandzic - After two scoreless draws on duty with the Olyroos, the 22-year-old will be relieved to be back at the Heart, where goals haven't really been a problem for him. Since joining the club from arch-rivals Victory, Dugandzic has flourished in the final third.

He has proven to be quite the headache for opposition teams, always buzzing around the penalty box, sniffing out opportunities and striking when they come. Already, he has a handful of goals to his name this season and will be looking for more on Sunday.

Paul Ifill - He's back, in a big way. On his return to the Phoenix line-up after a frustrating spell on the sidelines with a groin issue, Ifill was immense against Sydney last weekend.

Not only did he slot home the opening goal of the match, his sheer presence alone was enough to make Wellington stand taller. Having their dynamic, unpredictable talisman back will do wonders for the Kiwi club going forward. He'll certainly prove a handful for the Heart's young defence this weekend, as well.

At the end of the day…

Fans of the beautiful game in Morwell will be gifted what looks like an intriguing match-up between two sides who have been known to struggle with life in the A-League. John van 't Schip's men are a fine side who play noble football but often without results.

The Phoenix are the competition's perennial battlers, and to their credit they keep getting up every single time they're knocked down. On recent form, there isn't much between them. The Heart were deflated with the manner of their loss last weekend, while Wellington should now be buoyant and confident after toppling the Sky Blues.

The only issue, of course, is their away form. Every second week, Ricki Herbert's men must cross the Tasman and that tends to show itself with some poor results away from Westpac Stadium.

Despite the Nix's ingrained grittiness, the expectation is that the Heart should take full points in this fixture if they are to be considered a serious football side this season. We're backing them to.