Sunday 18 February 2018 / 09:27 PM

Heart Restart

It is hard to recall many sporting turnarounds as abrupt and absolute as the Melbourne Heart’s this season.

The only comparable episode in recent history was the USA’s comeback to win the America’s Cup 9-8 against New Zealand after having trailed 8-1 at one stage.

The Heart would probably have to win the title to match such a remarkable story, but even at this point, their resurrection has been one of biblical proportions; the explanation for it, though, could be quite a simple one.

A look at the pure statistics behind the Heart’s recovery is astounding in itself.

The Melbourne team were on one of the all-time worst streaks in Australian sports, having failed to win in 19 straight games.

After their 3-0 loss to Perth on January 10 they sat rock bottom of the table with little hope of salvaging anything from season 2013/14.

Then came a 3-1 win against fellow strugglers the Newcastle Jets which, at the time, seemed like it would at least ensure the Heart would not go through the entire campaign without a single win.

A commendable draw against Adelaide United came next, and then, miraculously, five straight wins.

The last three victories, in particular, have been extremely impressive, with a tight win over the ladder-leaders Brisbane book-ended by resounding thumpings of the in-form Wellington Phoenix and the Melbourne Victory.

The Heart have now dragged themselves off the bottom of the table and, incredibly, sit within just four points of the top six.

How can this seismic shift in form be explained?

Many pundits have pointed out that the turnaround coincided with the announcement that Manchester City had bought a controlling stake in the club.

While this news would no doubt have given the players and staff a sense of stability and confidence in the future of the Heart, it is difficult to see how it could have had a major impact on the field, for this season at least.

The other tangible change to occur at AAMI Park was the ousting of John Aloisi as manager at the end of December.

While Aloisi may not have been entirely to blame for the Heart’s horror run, the appointment of John van’t Schip as interim coach no doubt presented the opportunity for a fresh start.

The real difference, however, could well have been something so basic and unexciting as the return of a number of top line players from injury.

The emergence of marquee Orlando Engelaar in particular has been a huge boon for the Heart. The giant Dutchman has been among the best players in the league since finally making his debut after breaking his leg in pre-season.

Perth Glory now sit below the Heart on the A-League table, and their coach Kenny Lowe said recently that the returning stars had made all the difference for van’t Schip’s side.

“They had one win and turned it around, but it coincided with their four best players coming back,” he said after the Glory’s loss to the Roar.

“The big lad in the middle of the park is probably the best player in this country.

“He’s a Rolls-Royce.

“Harry Kewell’s got a spring in his step, there’s the World Cup coming up.

“Germano, the midfield player who’s popped in at the back, as well, and controls tempo and dictates the game.

“But they’ve got four boys coming back that are absolute quality.

“And you know what, they were getting beaten by the skin of their teeth most of the times, and they were always in the games.

“I always thought Melbourne Heart were decent.”

Football is a simple game. Sometimes the difference between getting beaten every week and winning every week can be a few squad adjustments.

It may not be the sexiest explanation of the Heart’s resurgence, but it is probably the most accurate one.

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Dan Colasimone

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