Melbourne Heart 3 Newcastle Jets 1
You beauty: Mate Dugandzic celebrates a goal with Melbourne Heat teammates on Friday night. Photo: Getty Images
Melbourne Heart's marketing slogan this season has been "Heart Believe''.
But so dire and dreadful had this winless campaign been that only the true believers, those with the purest devotion, were still clinging on to the hope that John van 't Schip's side could turn things round.
They got the reward their patience deserved on Friday night when Heart came from a goal down against the Newcastle Jets to lead at half-time and then seal the game in the second period.
Emile Heskey of the Jets beats Robbie Wielaert of the Heart to the ball. Photo: Robert Cianflone
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Ramsay (44min), Dugandzic (47min, 68min)||Goals||Regan (37min)|
Iain Ramsay's equaliser and Mate Dugandzic's brace, one with his head, one with his foot, were enough to give it a 3-1 win over the Jets.
Heart thus ensured it did not set the unenviable A-League record of 20 successive games without a victory - which would have been its fate had it not triumphed here.
But for much of the opening period this game resembled so many others that Heart has been involved in during a season-long saga of missed chances, spurned opportunities, bad luck and misjudgment at just the wrong moments. Heart games had come to have their own Groundhog Day feel about them.
Massimo Murdocca of the Heart gestures during the match. Photo: Getty Images
Supporters could speculate, with some certainty, that Heart would have a lot of the ball, create several chances and its profligate strikers would fail to take any of them.
They knew the defence would make at least one unnecessary error, lose concentration at just the wrong moment, and cost the team dearly.
It was almost ordained that its opposition would sit back, and then score whenever a chance - often its only real opportunity - presented itself.
That script seemed sure to be played out this time again when the Jets, who had offered little attacking threat in the game, took the lead in the 37th minute through defender Taylor Regan.
Regan might have got his name on the scoresheet, but the central figure in the goal was former England front man Emile Heskey.
The big centre forward bullocked his way through several challenges only to be denied by Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, who put his body on the line to concede a corner. From the resulting kick Heskey made a near post run, dragging half the Heart defence with him. Meanwhile Regan peeled to the far post area and, when Craig Goodwin's cross came over the centre back was unmarked and able to head home.
The collective sigh of the sparse - 5046 -crowd told its own story.
Supporters had watched their team begin in good spirits and with bright attacking intent only to fall behind - again.
Michael Mifsud had been left on the bench and David Williams restored to the starting line-up, but it was another maligned forward in Ramsay, who almost made an early breakthrough with a second-minute drive that Mark Birighitti finger tipped to safety.
Harry Kewell produced a long shot which Birighitti also had to stretch for, and then Williams himself threatened with a header from a Jason Hoffman cross before being upended by Birighitti when both contested a through ball.
Williams sustained an injury, allowing Mifsud to make an earlier than expected intervention.
Just before the interval things changed for the better. Kewell rose to beat Regan in and knock the ball back to Ramsay, whose shot took a deflection off Kew Jaliens as it beat Birighitti to bring Heart level.
For once luck appeared to be with the host.
Two minutes later Heart found itself in heady territory - in front in a game - when Aziz Behich got clear down the left and fired over a cross which found Dugandzic unmarked to head home from the edge of the six yard box.
Dugandzic gave his side a two-goal buffer when he latched on to a through ball from Ramsay in the 67th minute and stroked the ball through Birighitti's legs, putting his team in a unassailable position.
For the most part Heart looked relatively comfortable defending its lead and with marquee man Orlando Engelaar, the former Dutch international midfielder, on for his first appearance of the campaign, the red and whites held firm and took a deserved first win in almost a year.
It's been an eternity coming, but those fans celebrated as if it was a finals victory. No one can say they don't deserve to.