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Heart start beating

by Paddy Higgs on Jan 17, 2012

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John Van 't Schip wasted little time outlining the style of football he wanted his Melbourne Heart side to adopt after being named club coach in 2009.

He wanted his team to play attacking, entertaining football. A physical approach was out. Skilful, technical football was in.

They were words he stuck to time and again; a mantra of what he wanted his team to produce, even when the critics began to round on him and his players.

One could almost sense his growing frustrations early this season, as Heart's football appeared to have progressed little past that of their debut 2010/11 season.

Questions began to be raised on whether van 't Schip's pledge was more empty ideal than tangible style, and the aforementioned critics asked if the Dutchman was truly worth the pay packet that reportedly has him the highest-paid coach in the league.

Chief executive officer Scott Munn only increased the pressure for Heart to find end product to their search for style in October when he told The Herald Sun there would be 'no excuses' for the absence of a finals place in season 2011/12.

Then - like a wearied Tour de France rider searching for the right gear - something finally clicked for Van 't Schip and his men.

There had been signs it was coming.

Heart had outplayed arch-rivals Victory in the first Melbourne derby of the season, on October 22, but had lacked cutting edge.

They found it against the Jets three matches later, putting a together run in which they tasted defeat just once in 11 matches.

A 3-1 loss to Adelaide at AAMI Park on January 3 brought it to an end, and Heart have not picked up a point in the two subsequent games since.

Having found that gear earlier in the campaign, a new challenge now beckons for van 't Schip and his men.

That sort of momentum will be hard to find, particularly in an increasingly competitive league and with finals spots now on the line for the chasing peloton.

Hardly helping Heart are the absences of two players, who had been integral to the brightest run of the club's short history.

Captain Fred had experienced a slow start to the second stint of his career in Melbourne, but had begun to show the touches of a player that had set the league alight during Victory's title-winning 2006/07 season.

Now 32, the Brazilian has lost more than a yard of pace since his time with the blue half of town, but he still possesses his canny vision and seems a tougher player from his time in the United States' MLS.

His six-week absence due to a groin injury will hurt his side, and will likely prompt van 't Schip into the transfer market now the window has opened.

Similarly, Adrian Madaschi's departure to the K-League before the Glory game should not underestimated.

Madaschi's composure at the back was a source of strength for teenaged centre-backs Curtis Good and Brendan Hamill, and also allowed van 't Schip to move Matt Thompson back into midfield - to good effect.

Former captain Simon Colosimo - seemingly destined for the exit door early in the campaign - may prove vital in stiffening up Heart's spine in Madaschi's absence.

Van 't Schip appeared to have conquered the biggest challenge of his career in Australia by assembling a group of players who believe in and can realise his style of play.

Identified as a title contender for some time now, a new raft of challenges now beckon for the third-placed Heart.

And make no mistake - how van 't Schip and his men counter this tough stage will inevitably decide just how far up the finals peak they can finish.