Heart plan to home in on finals berth

IN CRICKET we have flat-track bullies - batsmen who cannot be blasted out with dynamite when the wicket is offering little to the bowler, but who struggle when there is some movement in the pitch.

In racing we have horses for courses, gallopers who are unbeatable at one venue and who can barely go a metre at another.

And in football we have teams who are invincible in front of their own supporters, but incapable of picking up a point on the road.

Melbourne Heart, who on Sunday afternoon host the resurgent Sydney FC, have taken plenty of stick for falling into that third category where their away form is concerned.

But the side has won little kudos for being so hard to handle at AAMI Park in front of its own supporters.

Heart have lost only twice at home all season, once to the Mariners, when Pedj Bojic's tremendous free kick proved the difference between the two teams in a Central Coast win. On the other occasion, Heart went down 2-1 to arch rivals Melbourne Victory, in unlucky circumstances, when Archie Thompson grabbed an injury-time decider with virtually the last kick of the game.

It is that strong home form coach John Aloisi hopes will keep the side's finals chances alive against a Sydney FC team that has been reinvigorated under Frank Farina. The Sky Blues are also looking at a finals berth, something inconceivable a few weeks ago when they were mired at the foot of the table.

''We have looked at our last seven home games, we have won six and drawn one and 14 [goals] for and six against,'' Aloisi said on Saturday. ''If we can keep doing that the fans will keep coming. The players are confident at home, the record is as good as any in the league. Most of the time at home, we are well organised and play well as a unit.''

This is the first time Heart have taken on Sydney's gallery of stars - boosted by the signature of Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill - on their own turf.

The first time the two met this campaign they drew. On the last occasion, Heart's late capitulation prompted plenty of soul searching. Aloisi's side was leading 1-0 with a couple of minutes to go, but lost 2-1. Since the Heart have struggled for consistency, and Aloisi hopes they can play themselves back into form against the team that tripped them up.

''The motivation of getting back into the top six is motivation enough for us,'' he said. ''We know that the last two games against Sydney we have played well. We controlled the one we lost 2-1 for 80 minutes, so that should give us confidence that we can control the game tomorrow and get a different result.''

Skipper Fred comes back into contention for a spot in the starting line-up after returning off the bench in the 2-0 loss to Newcastle last week, but Aloisi was undecided whether to start with the Brazilian.

''He's feeling good, he pulled up well after the 30 minutes he had last week. But Nicky Kalmar was brilliant in the last home game against Perth. You want competition for places and a full squad to select from,'' he said, indicating he was happy with the progress of new Dutch signing Marcel Meeuwis. ''It takes a bit longer for a foreigner to come in. I am happy with the way he's going.''

Heart are well aware of the brilliance of Alessandro Del Piero, but Aloisi said Sunday's opponents were not a one-man team. ''They have got great individuals - Lucas Neill, Alessandro Del Piero, Joel Griffiths, Brett Emerton,'' he said.

This story Heart plan to home in on finals berth first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.