There's absolutely nothing separating the Jets and the Heart in terms of past results.
Date: Saturday 11 February 2012 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT, 5.30pm local Venue: Hunter Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 5 Wins: Newcastle 2, Heart 2, Draws: 1
Previous encounter Heart 3, Newcastle 0, 12 November 2011
History: There's absolutely nothing separating the Jets and the Heart in terms of past results. They've locked horns a total of five times since the red and whites were introduced to the A-League last season, and they've both taken away two wins apiece.
If it seems like they haven't played for a while, though, you're right - not since November last year have Melbourne Heart and Newcastle shared the same pitch. On that occasion, the pitch in question was AAMI Park and John van 't Schip's men eased to a comfortable 3-0 triumph, with goals to Fred, Mate Dugandzic and Aziz Behich all coming in the final half hour of the match.
Past five matches: Newcastle: DLDWW Heart: LLDLD
Summary of form: The Jets have enjoyed something of a mini-resurgence over the past few weeks. Two weeks ago they were second-last on the ladder - now, after a draw against Adelaide and road wins against the Roar and Sydney FC, they're convinced they are truly top six material.
Gary van Egmond's new possession-based gameplan is starting to work. As the weeks roll on, the Jets look far more comfortable with the ball at their feet and are showing an increased ability to keep it amongst themselves.
Meanwhile, the Heart's downturn in form continues at speed. For a few crazy weeks earlier in the season, they were basking in the praise of fans and pundits alike, who had them down as genuine challengers to the Mariners and Brisbane.
The likelihood of a real title challenge from the Heart wanes by the week. They haven't won in 2012, instead going seven matches in a row without tasting success. Their last victory was a crushing 4-0 result in Sydney, but with their three best young players on Olyroos duty, that seems like a long, long time ago now. They were, however, moral victors in the Melbourne derby.
Newcastle are one of the few clubs who weren't completely raided by Olyroos coach Aurelio Vidmar. Their sole Australian under-23 representative is Ben Kantarovski, and with an empty medical room, he's the Jets' only certain absentee this weekend.
On the other hand, the Heart are plenty depleted. Matt Thompson (knee), Fred (groin), Nick Kalman (back) and Kliment Taseski (foot) are all under injury clouds.
To make matters more difficult for John van 't Schip, Aziz Behich, Jason Hoffman and Mate Dugandzic are sitll away on Olyroos duty. However, as the debut of Craig Goodwin last week showed, the Heart's youth policy is starting to manifest itself in greater squad depth.
Jeremy Brockie - The Kiwi is doing his chances of securing a new contract at the Jets absolutely no harm. With two goals against his former employers, the Sky Blues, on the weekend, Brockie lifted his scoring tally to eight for the season - the third-best in the league, only behind penalty box predators Shane Smeltz and Besart Berisha. He doesn't get the plaudits that other strikers get, but the 24-year-old is starting to develop a reputation as a true poacher - and that skill is invaluable in the A-League.
Craig Goodwin - Most debutants in the A-League are timid, nervous and usually a few touches off the pace. Not Craig Goodwin. Starting his professional career on one of the biggest stages in Australian football, the Melbourne derby, the 20-year-old did not miss a single beat at left-back. With pace, skill, courage and confidence, the young South Australian stole the show. The challenge will be doing it again - the sophomore slump is a killer, after all - but if he can, Aziz Behich might have a bit of trouble getting his old spot back.
At the end of the day…
The home stretch of the regular season is now upon us, and this game more than any others could shape the top six. Central Coast have sewn up top spot, barring any unforeseen and uncharacteristic two month-long meltdowns.
Below the Mariners, there are three teams bunched up with just three points separating them - Wellington, Brisbane and Perth. Each of those clubs have a favourable run home, so they are unlikely to move as well.
That leaves fifth and sixth spot wide open, and that just happens to be where the Jets and the Heart sit right now.
That makes Saturday's match crucial. The winner will bridge the gap between themselves and the top four and ensconce themselves amongst the play-off bound teams. The loser risks missing finals action altogether. It's huge. There's also nothing between Newcastle and the Heart at the minute. But because of their lack of injuries and home ground advantage, we'll go with the Jets here.
Newcastle Jets squad: 1. Ben Kennedy (gk), 2. Taylor Regan, 4. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 5. Tiago Calvano, 8. Jeremy Brockie, 9. Michael Bridges, 10. Ruben Zadkovich, 11. Tarek Elrich, 12. Jobe Wheelhouse (c), 13. Byun, 14. Labinot Haliti, 17. James Virgili, 18. Marko Jesic, 19. Matthew Nash (gk), 22. Ali Abbas, 23. Ryan Griffiths, 24. Francis Jeffers, 25. Jacob Pepper
In: Haliti, Virgili, Jesic (all promoted).
Unavailable: 6. Ben Kantarovski (Qantas Australian U23 duty)
Melbourne Heart squad: 1.Clint Bolton (GK), 2.Michael Marrone, 3.Brendan Hamill, 4.Simon Colosimo, 5.Fred (C), 7.Rutger Worm, 8.Kristian Sarkies, 9.Maycon, 10.Wayne Srhoj, 11.Alex Terra, 13.Jonatan Germano, 15.David Williams, 18.Curtis Good, 19.Eli Babalj, 26.Paul Reid, 27.Craig Goodwin, 30.Sebastian Mattei (GK) *two to be omitted*
In: Fred (returns from injury), Maycon (promoted)
Unavailable: Nick Kalmar (back - 1 week), Matt Thompson (knee 2-3 weeks)