Preview: Newcastle v Melbourne Heart

It's been a week of drama in Tinkler Town with the focus unfortunately on anything but the opening round of the season.

Date: Saturday, October 8 Kick-off: 4.30pm AEDT Venue: Ausgrid Stadium

Head-to-head Played 3: Wins: Newcastle 1, Melbourne 1, Draws: 1

Previous encounter Melbourne Heart 0, Newcastle Jets 2, December 2010

History: It's only a short history between these two clubs but it's all square with each side winning a game apiece while the other clash was drawn. While the Heart took the early honours, their last meeting was a courageous 2-0 win for Newcastle at AAMI Park despite playing almost 80 minutes of the match with 10-men after Jobe Wheelhouse's early red card. Francis Jeffers and Marko Jesic were the goal scorers on the night.

Form: Past five matches: Newcastle Jets: LWLLL Melbourne Heart: DDLDD

If the pre-season is anything to go by then Newcastle are in for a big year. The Jets played 12 matches during the arduous pre-season schedule and never tasted defeat. Everyone associated with the club will be hoping some of that momentum hasn't been lost with the sacking of coach Branko Culina this week. The Heart haven't been quite as impressive in the pre-season but have shown enough for coach John van 't Schip to declare anything less than a top six finish would be a failure.

Match Committee: While there will be no Jason Culina in a Jets jersey anymore, the club have received some positive news on the injury front heading into the new season. Striker Marko Jesic (ankle) is on track to take his place in the side while Ryan Griffiths (hamstring) should also be available after performing strongly at training. Jeremy Brockie (calf) is also progressing well but is a 50-50 chance of facing the Heart.

Winger Adrian Zahra (knee) is still about a month away from returning to first team football. But the Heart still have plenty of attacking thrust with new signings David Williams, Mate Dugandzic, Maycon and new skipper Fred to lead their goal-scoring hopes.

Danger men: Chris Payne - It's another fresh start for the 20-year-old striker who starts at a new club for the third straight season. Payne, who was born down the F3 on the Central Coast, has lost 8kg in the off-season and is looking sharper and quicker as a result. The fact Payne scored four times in a tough season at North Queensland in 2010/11 shows he has an eye for goal and if he can continue that type of form, he will give the Heart defence plenty of headaches.

Fred - In an off-season when the likes of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton have come to the A-League, the return of Season 2 star Fred has gone almost unnoticed. But the signing of the Brazilian attacker may just be the best piece of business of the lot if he can re-produce the form he did in the Victory's debut championship-winning season. The 32-year-old will not only provide pace and flair to the Heart attack, he will also make van 't Schip's side extremely unpredictable and can also chip in with a few goals of his own.

At the end of the day… It's been a week of drama in Tinkler Town with the focus unfortunately on anything but the opening round of the season. The timing of Culina's sacking could not have come at a worse time, giving the club just five days to prepare for the game and without a head coach. There is sure to be some fallout from the controversy but the club have face on and off field problems in the past and still been able to get results. If anything it might just take a little pressure off the players.

Like many of the other sides in the Hyundai A-League, the Heart going into Round 1 as the great unknown given a huge turnover of players from their debut season. But from the calibre of player they have recruited it's looks like they will play a more up tempo game this time around, with much more pace in the attacking third. If the likes of Fred, Williams and Alex Terra can hit the ground running then the Heart will simply have too much firepower for the home side.