Preview: Melbourne Heart v Wellington Phoenix

Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix will meet in Round 12 of the 2013-14 A-League season at AAMI Park on Friday, December 27 at 7.30pm AEDT.

Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix will meet in Round 12 of the 2013-14 A-League season at AAMI Park on Friday, December 27 at 7.30pm AEDT.

Head-to-head: Played: 9 - Wins: Heart 2, Phoenix 4, Draws: 3

Previous encounter: Phoenix 1-0 Heart, March 3, 2013

Form: Past five matches: Heart: LLDDL Phoenix: WLLLD

The Game: So the Phoenix finally got their win, beating Sydney 1-0 at home last time out. It had to arrive eventually, because Wellington, while maddeningly inconsistent, have shown promise at times this season under Ernie Merrick. Now it's a case of where to go from here. Will they push on, start putting good results together and make an impact on the sharp end of the competition? Perhaps not, but Wellington's season starts now, if they want it to.

How the Heart must envy that 'W' in their next opponents' recent results column. They haven't done enough to earn one of their own yet, and rolled over obediently against local rivals Melbourne Victory, their cause not helped by the early dismissal of Patrick Kisnorbo. The home game against their fellow strugglers from NZ had been earmarked as the most likely opportunity to get off the mark. But will a Phoenix side buoyed by their drought-breaking win still represent the same vulnerable target?

The big issue: Heart – How long can John Aloisi, even with the apparent backing of his hapless squad, continue at the helm without an improvement in performances and results? Any change made now by the club's administrators could certainly not be labelled a 'knee-jerk reaction' and would be hard to argue against. On paper, the squad is hardly any worse than that of the other clubs in the bottom half of the table. So why can't they score goals, keep clean sheets or win games? Two battling draws against the Wanderers and Adelaide in the last month or so has been the highlight of the team's season so far. Nowhere near good enough, with little sign of an improvement on the horizon. The big red button marked 'sack' must look so tempting right now.

Phoenix – Paul Ifill is out for the season and, at 34, may not play again for the Phoenix. Two seasons ago that would have been earth-shattering news for Wellington, who depended on the Englishman for creativity, attacking threat and leadership. But he's been off the boil through niggling problems since the beginning of last term. Now they have the likes of Carlos Hernandez, Jeremy Brockie, Kenny Cunningham and Stein Huysegems to call upon, ably supported by a crop of younger locals. But still, it's one less experienced body in the final third, and Merrick would surely prefer to have a fit and firing Ifill to call upon. 

The game breaker: Creaking veteran Harry Kewell finally started just his second game of the season against Victory last week, but with the lowly red and whites a man down for much of the contest, it's difficult to judge his performance. Doubtless he still has the technique and football intelligence to influence a contest. If Heart can keep all 11 men on the field at home to the Phoenix, perhaps the former Socceroos star can finally shine.