Boost: Heart will be buoyed by the return of defender Simon Colosimo (right). Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
MELBOURNE Heart is down, but the bottom-of-the-table team is hoping that it is not out.
But its two games in five days against Newcastle and Brisbane, both at AAMI Park this week, will go a long way towards determining the club's fate in season 2012-13.
Victories would catapult John Aloisi's side up the ladder and give it renewed hope that it might be in the finals mix through to the end of the season.
Defeats would be a morale sapping reminder of just how much Heart needs to do to stay in touch with the rest of the competition.
Heart blew a two-goal lead in Wellington last week, not for the first time this season giving away an advantage earned early in the match.
The last time it hosted the Jets at AAMI Park early in the season, Heart raced to a 2-0 lead inside five minutes only to concede two goals, score a third and then let in a late leveller in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Defensive frailty has haunted both sides this season. Gary van Egmond's Jets side is decent going forward - it struck two against Melbourne Victory last Friday night although it conceded three to lose another nail-biter - but it has not kept a clean sheet all campaign.
Heart will be strengthened by the return from suspension of its first-choice central defensive pairing, Simon Colosimo and Patrick Gerhardt, both of whom missed the trip to Wellington, where Heart (having gone two up inside the first 16 minutes) lost 3-2.
Aziz Behich and Richard Garcia, both Australian internationals, were rested from that game and should be fit to come back to bolster the starting line-up.
The Jets, who have lost against Heart only once in three games at AAMI Park, are seventh in a packed field battling for position at the lower reaches of the top six. They have 16 points, just four more, for all their struggles, than Heart.
Van Egmond says Scott Neville will come into his starting line-up, but he has yet to decide on the 11 that will kick off.
The Jets were unlucky not to get something out of their game with Victory last Friday, when they clawed their way back into proceedings only to lose to Marco Rojas' spectacular strike.
The squad stayed in Melbourne rather than return to the Hunter Valley between the game against Victory and Tuesday afternoon's meeting with Heart.
''Everyone is fine on the physical side,'' van Egmond said. ''Picking everyone up on the mental side is the challenge, and that's what we have to do. We have to tighten up at the back. If you let in two goals a game, you are not going to be able to be competitive in the league. While we do score goals, giving them away like that puts us under pressure.
''We still need to keep working on our defensive structure, but I don't want to inhibit our attack. We do need to be able to defend better up the park. We do have a lot of young players and the experience they are getting is invaluable, but we can't keep on giving starts.''
He is expecting Heart to come out firing following its disappointing Christmas.