MELBOURNE Heart had never won its first game of the season until it beat Melbourne Victory in round one in front of a bumper crowd on Friday night.
Now the ”second” team in the city will never get a better chance to make a flying start to its campaign than this weekend.
Heart is at home to Wellington Phoenix, which will be missing more than half a team of first-choice players as the fixture clashes with New Zealand’s Oceania World Cup campaign. The All Whites play against Tahiti twice in four days.
Heart’s gain and Wellington’s pain is also Melbourne Victory’s loss.
Ange Postecoglou’s side struggled to put in place his new game plan in the loss on Friday night and its chances of gaining some continuity and improvement will also be hit by the demands of the international calendar and World Cup qualifying.
Victory will lose Archie Thompson and Mark Milligan to Holger Osieck’s Socceroos squad as the Australians seek to dig themselves out of a stuttering qualifying campaign when they meet Iraq in Qatar tomorrow week, while Marco Rojas will be a key part of Ricki Herbert’s NZ party.
Victory’s depth should, however, allow Postecoglou to paper over the cracks. Theo Markelis and Danny Allsopp look the likely forward replacements for Thompson and Rojas, while Spase Dilevski could come in at right back, with Matthew Foschini moving into a central position to deputise for Milligan, alongside skipper Adrian Leijer.
For Heart, however, things look rosy. If it can beat a weakened Wellington – which itself got off to a flying start with a 2-0 win over Sydney, raining on Alessandro Del Piero’s debut parade – it will most likely top the table at that early stage of proceedings.
More importantly, the win in the opening derby brought credibility to a club that has had its share of doubters in the off-season. Heart showed on Friday that you didn’t necessarily need to invest huge amounts in marquee players to forge a competitive squad. Striker Dylan Macallister looked immediately at home in the red and white, while David Williams, who scored the opener, looked determined to make the most of the chance coach John Aloisi has given him.
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