John van ’t Schip insists he is no miracle worker, and all that he has done is give his Melbourne Heart players confidence to express themselves and play for the fun of the game.
Whatever his message, the Dutchman has certainly brought about one of the most extraordinary transformations of this or any other A-League season as the red and whites drag themselves off the canvas and towards a potential finals berth.
Heart’s remarkable run continued on Saturday night when they humiliated local rivals Melbourne Victory 4-0 in the third derby of the season, lifting themselves, at least overnight, to eighth place on the ladder.
The rampaging win, perhaps the sweetest in the club’s history, was their fifth on the spin and has lifted them to 24 points - just four less than sixth placed Sydney.
For Victory, so long the biggest show in town but now fearing the threat of the Manchester City - owned rivals, this game was a disaster. Yes, they have had a punishing schedule leading up to the fixture and were a man down for the entire second half, but a defeat of this magnitude is a huge embarrassment.
Orlando Engelaar had played a key role in securing Heart’s 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar six days earlier, scoring the only goal of the game and controlling the tempo from his midfield berth.
And the lanky Dutchman, a former Netherlands international, once again proved a pivotal player as his side stamped its authority on this derby clash.
His lumbering gait disguises a sharp football brain, and his positional sense allows him to get to contests that the physics of his frame suggests might not usually be possible.
So it was for the opening goal from a move which he started and, a few seconds later, finished with aplomb.
Victory’s goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas, given a chance for the first time in over a year because of the poor form of first choice shotstopper Nathan Coe, will not remember the opening half of his return to first team action fondly.
Not only did he concede two goals, but he was directly involved in setting up Heart’s first, and was then a key figure in a head scratching incident in which his team-mate Nick Ansell was sent off.
Engelaar’s opener came when Thomas’ 9th minute clearance fell to the Heart midfielder. He fed Iain Ramsay out wide, and the winger’s cross was headed on across the six yard box by the livewire David Williams. Engelaar, meanwhile, had stolen forward and was on hand to volley home from close range, a finish very similar to that which had proved decisive against the Roar.
Victory started brightly and looked as though they had shaken off any lethargy from their long midweek flight back from China following Wednesday night’s Asian Champions League game against Guangzhou.
But the appearance was illusory, for within a few minutes their game began to fall apart.
There were misplaced passes, players struggled to control the ball and no-one seemed to be able to read the next move.
Heart, on the other hand, is a team fuelled by a sense that they just might achieve what had looked like an impossible dream barely two months ago.
And once they got their noses in front that sense of mission only got stronger.
Thomas was, when Ange Postecoglou first came to Melbourne Victory, his preferred first choice - mainly because he was felt to be better playing out from the back than his rivals. He kept his spot only for a few games before being displaced by Nathan Coe, so this was a huge opportunity for him.
The fact that the first goal came from a misplaced pass bore a certain sense of irony. And he was embarrassed again when, in the 15th minute, Mate Dugandzic doubled the advantage with a goal that he would have imagined scoring in only his most optimistic daydreams.
The speedy winger darted in and robbed Victory defender Adama Traore, looked up and floated over a cross. As Thomas watched the ball sailed over and past him and, with no one expecting it, dipped under the bar and into the net. Dugandzic’s sheepish grin of celebration suggested he was as surprised by the outcome as everyone else.
Heart teenager Ben Garuccio, given his first start for the season as a makeshift left back in place of the suspended Aziz Behich might have looked a player worth exploiting, especially as he was up against Victory’s veteran Socceroo forward Archie Thompson.
But the 19 year old, normally a winger, certainly never looked flustered by the challenge and dealt with Thompson’s incursions with a certainty many more experienced defenders have lacked.
Things went from bad to worse for Kevin Muscat’s team just before the interval when referee Strebre Delovski sent off Victory centre half Nick Ansell.
As Williams chased down a long ball Ansell went in pursuit; at the same time Thomas came charging out of his goal, intent on a clearance. All three men collided, with the main impact occurring when Thomas and his team-mate came together.
Delovski quickly pulled out a red card and waved it in Ansell’s direction, although replays showed that he had only collided with his own goalkeeper.
It appears Delovksi based his decision on what happened moments earlier, as Ansell seemed to have grabbed Williams shirt as he bore down on the ball outside the penalty area.
Lawrence partially redeemed himself when he made a good save to deny Ramsay ten minutes after the restart as Heart began to create a number of opportunities. Eventually they took one of them when Williams netted in the 83rd minute and then substitute Harry Kewell added a fourth soon after to complete the rout.