Melbourne Heart coach John Van’t Schip conceded that the Manchester City-driven, petro-dollar-fuelled club rebuild starts now with the finals just a mathematical dream for his team following the 2-1 home loss to Central Coast on Sunday in front of a disappointingly low crowd of 5418 fans.
Those supporters who didn’t turn up missed one of the best goals in the nine seasons of the A-League.
Dutch midfielder Orlando Engelaar’s sumptuous strike from his own half, a delicate chip that soared then dipped down over the embarrassed head of out-of-position Mariners shot stopper Liam Reddy, will live long in the memory of those who saw it.
It wasn’t enough, however, to keep Heart in the finals race, although it brought a rueful smile to Van ’t Schip’s face.
‘’It was a great goal, but Orlando and I, we would rather have the three points than the goal,’’ the Dutchman said after the game.
Heart is now seven points behind sixth-placed Newcastle, so any realistic prospect of post-season involvement is hard to imagine with just three games left in the season.
‘’Mathematically it's possible, but normally it's over,’’ the coach said.
Van’t Schip insists his side will prepare professionally for the final three matches – against Brisbane, Adelaide and Western Sydney – but admitted he would use the fixtures to experiment with players and his team structure ahead of what is likely to be a major transformation next season as the full benefits of Manchester City’s ownership take effect.
The English club is expected to loan or transfer players to its Australian unit to bolster the team’s tilt at the title.
Mariners boss Phil Moss was, understandably, delighted at the commitment and mental strength shown by his team, which had barely mustered a first-half threat save for its stoppage-time equaliser.
Central Coast had flown to China at the beginning of last week for its Asian Champions League game and came straight back to Melbourne on Friday rather than return home. It was a travel schedule that in the end proved the right option.