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A-League: Good start for Heart's John van't Schip - now for those finishes

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It would have been unfair to expect Melbourne Heart to win on John van't Schip's return to A-League but a fighting draw, away to the reigning champions, proves all is not lost.

This match provided little for the highlights reel yet Heart can be well-pleased their prodigal father avoided the doomed outcome most predicted.

This was one of their better performances of the season, one met by an equally uninspired effort by the hosts, who never clicked into the gear most expected.

If there's one thing van't Schip will want to work on it's the same issue which dogged the tenure of John Aloisi: bad finishing. That cost the visitors what would have been a famous win, especially during a dominant first half.

However, given that very few teams come to Gosford and emerge with much to show, a point and some good combination play is a healthy return.
"After a difficult, hard week for the boys, and getting over the loss to Wellington and the trainer [Aloisi] that went away, they performed very well," van't Schip said. "In the first half we dominated. I think we created some good chances and went close to scoring. In the second half we also had some opportunities and some corners, so overall, the score was one we could live with."

The Dutchman will be especially buoyed by the spritely form of Harry Kewell. He was energetic and competitive, constantly darting into space and demanding the ball.


The 35-year old is slowly but surely clearing the rust out and national coach Ange Postecoglou, watching on in the stands, might have jotted down some enthusiastic dot points. Kewell still believes he's a shot for Brazil and this occasion showed the ambition isn't completely fanciful.

But just as the match was marked as a return for van't Schip, it was meant to be a farewell for one of the A-League's best players, Michael McGlinchey. The New Zealander has agreed to spend the next 12 months on loan at Japanese club Vegalta Sendai and this was due to be last match in blue and gold.

But the midfielder was struck down with an illness which stripped him of 2.5 kilograms over the weekend and he watched the match from bed.

"I only found out a couple of hours before the game. We tried to give him until the last minute," said Mariners coach Phil Moss. "We've lost Marcos Flores [to a season-ending knee injury], who is a big player, and Mikey is a massive player as well, so it's going to take time to replace them."

Van't Schip's second tenure almost began in dream fashion when Michael Mifsud jinked his way through the Mariners' defence after a lovely through ball from Kewell, only for the Maltese international to hit the post.

On the brink of half-time, the same duo nearly unlocked the Mariners again, and Kewell's cross looked ominous but Mifsud lacked a controlled touch.

Andrew Redmayne might have a hard time remembering his homecoming after being clattered by Daniel McBreen after half-time but the goalkeeper was otherwise looking untroubled.

Half-chances at either end dotted the second half but few merited highlighting. Mitchell Duke's scorching effort nearly put the hosts ahead three minutes before full time but the scoreless result seemed pre-determined.

While the Mariners fielded a strong side on paper, they were clearly lacking the creative ingenuity of McGlinchey and Flores.

McBreen played as the number 10 and Nick Fitzgerald as the attacking left midfielder but neither replicated the impact of those they replaced.

It's clear that Moss will have to dip into the transfer market to keep his side in the championship hunt. His pursuit of ex-Mariner Tom Rogic, currently frozen out at Celtic, should be his top priority in the transfer window.
As for van't Schip, he takes his team away to Perth on a five-day camp in an effort to rejuvenate his beleaguered players. He'll go there clinging to the hope of salvaging something from this wreckage of a season.

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