Preview: Melbourne Heart v Central Coast

Heart are in a dogfight to make the finals series and having broken through for a win last week, they will be looking to consolidate that with a good performance here.

Melbourne Heart v Central Coast Date: Sunday 26 February Kick-off: 5.00pm AEDT Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Head-to-head Played 5: Wins: Melbourne Heart 0, Central Coast Mariners 4, Drawn: 1

Previous encounter Melbourne Heart 0, Central Coast Mariners 1, AAMI Park, January 2012

History: The Heart have had a difficult history against the Mariners, starting with their first-ever game which they lost 1-0 to them thanks to a rare Alex Wilkinson goal. It was the same result the second time around at Bluetongue Stadium, while the Heart secured a 1-1 draw at AAMI Park.

The Mariners proved far too good when the two met for the first time this season at Bluetongue Stadium, prevailing 3-1 and then were fortunate to grab the three points when they played at AAMI Park in January, with Adam Kwasnik scoring the winner in the 90th minute.

Form: Past five matches: Melbourne Heart: WLDLD Central Coast Mariners: DWLLW

Summary of form: Heart finally broke their run of eight matches without a win with an unconvincing 1-0 success over Gold Coast United at AAMI Park last Friday night. That gave them some reprieve in their battle for a spot in the finals and they now sit fifth, two points clear of the seventh-placed Jets.

The Mariners remain clear on top of the table, six points in front of Brisbane, but there is a real sense that they are as vulnerable now as they have been all season. They were in Melbourne two weeks ago, losing to Victory and while they bounced back with a home win over Phoenix, they were forced to scramble to secure a point in a dramatic 3-3 draw against bottom-placed Gold Coast on Wednesday night.

Match Committee: Kristian Sarkies has a calf injury and while he will train ahead of this match, he is unlikely to be considered. Nick Kalmar, Adrian Zahra and Kliment Taseski are all making their way back to full fitness. Aziz Behich, Jason Hoffman and Mate Dugandzic come back from national duty, and at least two of them are likely to come straight in.

The Mariners also benefit from the end of the Olympic qualification campaign with Mat Ryan, Oliver Bozanic and Mustafa Amini all back and available. Ryan and Bozanic will slot straight in, while John Hutchison could make his return after missing the Gold Coast game with illness.

Danger men: Fred - Having had a week under his belt to find his form and fitness after a prolonged injury absence, the Brazilian should be ready to have a major influence on this match.

Mat Ryan - Not wanting to be two hard on Justin Pasfield, but the Mariners have conceded seven goals in the four games Ryan has been out of the side. In the previous 10 matches with Ryan between the sticks, they had conceded five in total. Boosted by his inclusion in the Qantas Socceroos side, he will be ready to fire.

At the end of the day… Heart are in a dogfight to make the finals series and having broken through for a win last week, they will be looking to consolidate that with a good performance here. Their issue is winning games at home with just four successes from 11 games at AAMI this campaign.

They were hurt by the absence of the three Olympic representatives, especially Dugandzic and Behich, along with the injuries to Thompson and Fred. This starts a run of four matches against other top six sides, and this period is likely to define their season.

With a relatively clean bill of health, there are no more excuses for the Heart not to make the finals and they need to start playing good, quality football.

They will certainly take some confidence from their most recent clash with the Mariners, where they deserved to win.

That was the start of a period of difficulty for the Mariners, who had been close to impregnable up until that point. They don't look as mighty as they once did and with Brisbane making weekly improvement, they know they need to get back to their top ASAP.

Wednesday's performance against Gold Coast lacked the composure and authority of a team which is expected to be crowned premiers in a few weeks' time. They were found out by an enterprising and surprisingly inspired GCU side which had every reason to be uncompetitive given the circumstances of the week.

It was a good slap in the face, in that they got a point out of it and also hopefully learned a lesson. Graham Arnold certainly looked ready to hand out a few home truths when he left the park and we will see on Sunday if they have been absorbed.

It should be a very interesting match with the Mariners holding slight favouritism.

Teams: TBC