WITH Melbourne Heart, it ain’t over till it’s over. John Aloisi’s side has provided its fans with a roller-coaster ride all season, squandering leads when in positions to win matches and losing games in stoppage time when a draw was the least they deserved.
So even when they were coasting towards a three-point outcome against a disappointing Adelaide at AAMI Park on Friday night, no one in the 7181 strong crowd, least of all the head coach, could be quite sure that they would go on and finish the job.
Memories of last weekend, when they were a goal up with five minutes remaining in Sydney against the bottom-of-the-table side only to lose 2-1, were still too sharp for any complacency.
This time Heart kept its nerve, shape and structure and saw the game out comfortably enough to notch a 2-0 victory.
The win takes it into fifth spot on the table overnight, although it could drop to seventh by the end of the round depending on Perth Glory’s result with Melbourne Victory and how Newcastle fares against the Mariners.
For Adelaide this was an ordinary performance and a poor result. It will remain second on the table whatever happens, but the Mariners could stretch their lead to beyond the current two points if they see off the Jets, while a win in the west would bring Victory snapping at their heels.
Heart got off to just the sort of start needed to settle any nerves, Josip Tadic striking in the fifth minute to provide the impetus for his side to take charge.
In the build up, David Williams, restored to the line up after suspension, played a short corner to Fred, whose cross found the Croatian forward and he converted with his head for his sixth goal of the season.
Heart has scored plenty of early goals this season but has failed to capitalise. Few teams have been as adept as them at surrendering leads and their long-suffering fans have learned from bitter experience not to count their chickens, so despite the glow from such an early goal no one was getting ahead of themselves.
Aloisi had spoken at length during the week about the need for his players to counter their second half fade outs by concentrating more, working harder and maintaining the intensity that has so often put them in such good positions. He also demanded that they show more tactical awareness by working together, talking and advising each other in pressure situations.
His message seemed to have penetrated, especially in a first half where Heart pressed hard to deny the high flying Adelaide time and space on the ball in the forward third and worked effectively to maintain possession themselves, while also putting together some threatening moves.
The skipper, Fred, is so often the talisman for his team. When he plays well, Heart has a tremendous record but when the Brazilian is absent the results are in sync.
He was up for this contest – at least until his dodgy hamstring curtailed his involvement just 10 minutes into the second half – and he worked with his trademark enthusiasm to press and crowd opponents in their own half, sliding in for tackles and seeking to keep the flow moving by playing quick passes, even if at times his final execution was awry.
His presence and that of the effervescent Richard Garcia gave Heart plenty of purpose. Williams, who has looked a lively option all season, was another to pose problems for the opposition on the left flank as Heart spread the ball to the wings.
Adelaide had few chances in a game enlivened by a fascinating contest between the skilful Adelaide winger Iain Ramsay and Heart’s tyro defender Jeremy Walker, determined to make the vacant right back spot his own following Michael Marrone’s move to China last week.
Certainly Aloisi has shown faith in the Tasmanian teenager in recent weeks and it was not misplaced in this game as the youngster broke even with a player who has proved an Adelaide matchwinner in the past.
Still, John Kosmina’s team should have got back on level terms before the interval when Dario Vidosic blasted a clear chance over the bar from close range.
It was a miss that proved even more costly four minutes after the restart when Matt Thompson won the ball in midfield from Adelaide’s Evan Kostopoulos and powered on to the penalty area before rolling a pass to the unmarked Garcia, who calmly stroked the ball past Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic.
It was Garcia’s second goal in two games and it effectively killed off an out of sorts Adelaide.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.