Melbourne Heart bring A-League to Gippsland
Advertisements on the radio, reports in the paper, and a vuvuzela in the stands … the A-League arrived in the Gippsland region. The new boys Melbourne Heart took on season three champions the Newcastle Jets and local football fans braved the cold weather to fill the grandstand.
Unfortunately for the Heart, their football in the first half did not match the enthusiasm of the fans.
The new team looked hesitant and lacking in movement during a half in which the Jets created all the major chances. A fit again Michael Bridges looked ominous, whilst Ali Abbas and Jeremy Brockie provided width to a team which was evidently more in-tuned with their teammates and game-plan.
In the early stages of the match, Bridges was able to capitilise on a defensive mistake from Brendan Hamill and the former Leeds United striker calmly slotted the mistimed back-pass past Clint Bolton to open the scoring.
Hamill held his hand up apologetically as the players walked back to the halfway line trailing 1-0.
Whilst Melbourne controlled a lot of the possession in the first half, they were unable to capitlise and lacked the movement to break down the experienced Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Ljubo Milicevic in the jets defense.
This was evident when a frustrated Dean Heffenan glared at his attacking players after having no options to pass upfield.
Midway through the first half and the Heart defense was breached again. A well weighted through ball allowed bridges to round Bolton and chip to the back post for Abbas to tap in.
It was due reward for the Iraq international who was one of the better players on the night and caused constant problems for the Heart defense.
The Jets were clearly in control at this stage with Kasey Wehrman and Ben Kantarovski controlling the midfield and Bridges and Rooney causing constant problems to the Hearts defensive structure – Hamill in particular looking nervous after his first half error.
Sean Rooney was the third Jets player to hit the net after controlling a cross off his chest and volleying in. Unfortunately for Rooney, his effort was ruled out due to offside.
Melbourne were able to apply a little bit of pressure prior to half time with both Kamal Ibrahim and Rutger Worm having shots on target, but neither providing any problems for the Newcastle defense.
In the second half, Melbourne played with a lot more energy with Worm in particular starting to find his passes.
Midway through the second half Ibrahim shot over from long range before a loud cheer was evident for a quick tussle in which Worm was involved and Topor-Stanlay was shown a yellow card.
The crowd were finally delighted when a Worm free kick was headed in by Gerald Sibon with the Jets defense nowhere to be seen. A small group of active hearts fans able to wave their red and white flags enthusiastically after their team was finally able to get on the scoresheet with his fourth goal in his two previous matches.
Sibon’s height and attacking proficiency is sure to cause A-league defences a lot of problems and is one to watch in season six.
The 2-1 scoreline brought the game to life, with both teams creating numerous chances.
Former Melbourne Victory player Aziz Behich was introduced to left back and overlapped well with Ibrahim, whilst former Jet, Jason Hoffman, was able to find the ball in promising areas but lacked a effective cross to trouble the Jets defense.
As the final whistle sounded, the crowd let out a cheer.
It was not a cheer for the result, or at times the quality of the play, but a thanks for bringing A-League football to a regional with proud football history. The Jets won the match, but no doubt Melbourne Heart made a good impression with red scarfs to be seen all around the ground.