Stein Huysegems will try to shrug off the distractions of his contract negotiations and help Wellington Phoenix to a crucial A-League win in Melbourne today.
The 31-year-old former Belgium international is off contract at the end of the season and is seeking the security of a new two-year deal.
The Phoenix have only offered their leading goalscorer a one-year extension.
Huysegems admitted the uncertainty made it more difficult to concentrate fully on football but his experience helped.
"Of course you're thinking about it because you want to know as fast as possible what your future is," Huysegems said.
"It's not nice when you have to talk a long time before everything is OK. But I try to focus on the games and I have a lot of experience in that."
Carlos Hernandez's calf injury means Huysegems will be asked to play the vital No 10 role against the Heart at AAMI Park today.
He has done that job well this season and will attempt to release the pace of strikers Tyler Boyd and Roy Krishna.
"I also like that position and you get a lot of the ball of course. Sometimes as a striker, when we're not playing so well, you don't touch the ball a lot.
"So I know in the No 10 position I'm going to see the ball a lot and try and put the strikers in a good position to get some chances. Hopefully I can do that."
The Phoenix drew 1-1 with Perth Glory last Sunday but had 21 shots to Perth's seven.
That gave Huysegems some confidence, while he was also in the mood to avenge last month's record 5-0 loss to the Heart in Wellington.
"We have to show something back to our supporters, that that was a big mistake and a bad performance from us. We won in Melbourne at the beginning of the season so hopefully we can do that again.
"Five games to go, [Heart] are six points behind the top six so they have to win, they have to attack and if we want to make the playoffs we have to win. So it's going to be an open game."
With six goals and eight assists this season, Hernandez has been the Phoenix's most influential player.
But his ongoing calf problem meant his workrate dipped in the Glory game, and Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick hoped a re-worked midfield of Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Kenny Cunningham and Huysegems could shade the Heart today.
"When we took [Hernandez] off [last Sunday] we brought a lot more energy into that midfield with Jason Hicks coming on. And all of a sudden we dominated, in the last 15 minutes it was something like 90 per cent possession, they never got out of their half and we had chance after chance . . . So it always comes down to a team game. And I'm not pointing at Carlos or anyone about that but that's just the way I coach."
New signing Shaun Timmins will start at left back for the first time, replacing the injured Josh Brindell-South.
Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne was bracing for a Phoenix backlash.
"They'll be pretty fired up from last time we played them but so are we because we want to turn around a performance we had last week [a 1-0 loss to Newcastle Jets].
"I thought our tactics were spot on last time we played them but we've got to replicate that. We've got to make sure we're . . . not allowing them any time or space to get their heads up and play balls in behind."
- Sunday News
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