The Heart and Mariners are currently bookending the top six and both have good reasons to chase the three points this afternoon. Join us at 5pm when the Heart hosts the top team in its bid for one of the last remaining finals berths.
Both teams have been unwittingly caught up in the Clive Palmer media circus of the past ten days, having both played the youthful and inexperienced GCU in that time.
Neither managed to dominate a team they were expected to beat with ease, and the Mariners, in particular, barely managed to salvage a draw after they allowed the youngsters to get two goals in front.
Both teams will be wanting to put those less than impressive performances behind them and it will be a matter of the respective coaches, Graham Arnold and John van ‘t Schip, refocusing the troops.
The Heart is on the verge of welcoming back three olyroos: Aziz Behich, Mate Dugandzic and Jason Hoffman, although last I heard, there remained some doubt about whether all three would be ready by game day.
Last week Fred and Matt Thompson returned to the team after lengthy lay offs and will be much better for the run. If Dugandzic if fit enough, the capacity for the three to link up will return the Heart to their very best.
With these inclusions, the Heart is starting to look like the team that rocketed to second place earlier in the season, and not before time because they are hanging on to sixth spot on goal difference alone.
The Mariners are better placed, obviously, but they too are looking over their shoulder with the Roar having won their last four games and they now sit only a win behind the Central Coast.
The Mariners have their own worthy ins for this match with the return of Olyroos Mat Ryan, Oliver Bozanic and Mustafa Amini, while John Hutchinson has recovered from an illness.
This match is important because two likely finalists are returning to full strength, they are looking to regain some lost form, and the conclusion of this match will mean that all teams have played an equal amount of games, allowing the clearest read we’ve had of the table for a while.
The last time the Heart hosted the Mariners at AAMI Park, they were understrength yet managed to push them till the end, with the Mariners scoring a late goal to take the three points.
This time round, I think a strengthened Heart team will have the firepower to get that goal back – the game to end in a 1-1 draw.