Holding on: Melbourne Heart players carry an extra load at training on Saturday. Photo: Mal Fairclough
Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi has conceded that the last few weeks of extreme pressure in his job have been a big learning curve. But don't expect his self-belief to falter.
''I copped a lot as a player. I have been in pressure moments as a player and that's held me in good stead. I know how quick it can turn around,'' he said on Saturday.
''I don't go home and talk about it with my kids; I go home and read books to them and that helps me switch off a lot.''
It was a relaxed training session at AAMI Park before Sunday's critical match against Adelaide.
Assistant coach Hayden Foxe put out the cones and set up the gear for the vital pre-game session at the match venue, engaging in the banter that is the rule of clubs the world over, irrespective of their position on the league table.
As the sun broke through the Saturday morning cloud, Heart football department boss John Didulica, his young daughter in tow, sat next to technical chief and former coach John van 't Schip on the seats pitchside to chew the fat and discuss tactics and possibilities for the clash with the Reds.
The players ran out with a mixture of expressions. Some were laughing and joking, some pensive. Some had brows furrowed in concentration, others were looking relaxed.
Whenever a team is struggling the pressure is never as great on the players. The anonymity of the collective comes to their rescue, even the star men on big salaries: they never get the blame to quite the same extent as the coaches.
Aloisi knows all this, of course. He has been a star player, has endured the pressure of big games and experienced the joy and adulation that comes with success.
But now his character is being tested in a new way. Whatever he may be feeling inside, he remains courteous, calm and ready to face whatever questions are put to him. He doesn't lose his temper and rarely seems flustered, even if he is struggling to provide answers to the biggest question of all: Why his team has made such a dreadful start to the season?
There were banners calling for him to be sacked at the last home game, a lamentable 2-0 loss to Sydney, and there were chants for him to face the axe at the final whistle. He knows if the result doesn't come on Sunday the shouts are likely to be louder, the banners more plentiful.
But he is not wilting, nor showing signs of despair. Aloisi says he talks to the board at Heart regularly and while it has impressed on him the unacceptable record for season 2013-14, he says it has delivered no ultimatums.
Rather, he points out, it has been solicitous and inquiring, asking what he needs to help him do his job better and improve results.
In a world where coaches get fired all too quickly, Heart chairman Peter Sidwell and his colleagues deserve credit for not being trigger happy. Soccer is full of stories of coaches who, given time, were able to create successful teams.
But it is also full of tales of young coaches who got things terribly wrong in their first job, got the sack but proved how much they had learnt when they got another opportunity and built a winning team somewhere else.
Which Aloisi - if either - turns out to be could be determined, if not by Sunday's game, then by results up to an including the derby against Melbourne Victory shortly before Christmas.