Wellington say they are clinging to life, in truth their season is gone. Heart just need to drive a dagger through it.
Date: Sunday 3 March, 2013 Kick-off: 2.30pm AEDT, 4.30pm local Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 8 Wins: Wellington 2, Heart 3, Draws: 3
Previous encounter Wellington 3, Heart 2, 27 December 2012
Form: Past five matches: Wellington: LDLLW Heart: WLWLL
The Game Melbourne Heart manager John Aloisi will be hoping his side can finally claim three points outside of Victoria on Sunday after watching the Newcastle Jets break their own hoodoo against Wellington Phoenix.
The Jets produced their first victory in Wellington in 10 attempts on Wednesday and Aloisi will be reminding his players they will not get an easier opportunity to win on the road than against the Phoenix.
The Heart have won only one game away from AAMI Park this season, knocking off city rivals Melbourne Victory 2-1 at Etihad Stadium in Round 1. In fact, Heart's last win outside Victoria came in December 2011 against Sydney FC.
Aloisi has taken an 18-man squad to Dunedin where Heart will take on the Phoenix with Patrick Gerhardt returning from a one-game suspension, while Jason Hoffman and Ben Garuccio have been promoted.
Liberian central defender Gerhardt is the most likely of the trio to be inserted straight into the Heart's starting line-up having started every game he has played for the Red and Whites since joining the club before this season.
Phoenix caretaker manager Chris Greenacre has not made any changes despite Wellington losing 2-1 to the Jets - their third defeat in four games.
The big issue WP - Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd have been rare highlights for Wellington this season, giving Phoenix fans a reason to believe in the future of their club. But the question must be asked, how much longer until Greenacre tests more of the club's Football School of Excellence (FSE) players? While Wellington are only six points outside the Hyundai A-League's finals berths, their form suggests they are unlikely to make the top six. With three games to go after the visit of Heart, the FSE youngsters, plus underused players Michael Boxall, Ian Hogg and Cameron Lindsay, deserve a chance to prove themselves before a new manager is employed.
MH - Following Heart's failure to add more than one goal despite numerous chances in the second half of their 3-1 win over Sydney FC, Aloisi bemoaned his team's inefficiency in front of goal this week. With Josip Tadic still out with a broken toe, can Eli Babalj fill the hole left by the Serbian striker? Babalj has scored just once in five games since returning to the Heart from Red Star Belgrade. The 21-year-old centre forward has a less-than-prolific goal-scoring record in the A-League with 12 goals in 40 games. With the battle for the A-League's last two finals berths still very tight, Babalj's ability, or otherwise, to put the ball in the net will be crucial for his side to stay in the top six.
Gamebreaker Nick Kalmar. Kalmar was a key player in the Heart's inaugural season, playing 29 games, including 17 from the start and scoring three goals. The tall midfielder has struggled since, playing just three games last season due largely to injuries, while he has been in and out of the team this campaign. The past three games, however, have seen Kalmar back to his best, scoring two goals (including a stunning free-kick against Perth Glory) and he will be key to the Heart's hopes in Dunedin.
Prediction: Wellington 1-1 Heart Although the Phoenix have managed just one point from their past four fixtures, the New Zealand-based club have remained fairly solid at home with two wins and three draws from their past seven home games. While Heart will hope this form does not translate to Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium for Sunday's game, Wellington did knock off Perth Glory 1-0 in Auckland at the start of February.
Aloisi's team clearly have a psychological issue playing away from AAMI Park and it is hard to imagine why this will suddenly change this week. Heart are four spots and six points ahead of the Phoenix but with six consecutive defeats on the road, the Red and Whites cannot be relied upon outside Victoria.
The start of the game will be crucial with both sides struggling with their own unique psychological issues. The Heart will gain confidence from the fact Wellington have only kept one clean sheet in 14 matches but the Phoenix's record of 13 goals in the same period (including a 3-2 win over the Red and Whites on December 27) suggests a draw is likely unless the visitors can score twice.