He may reflect upon his time working with current Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond fondly, but Melbourne Heart FC striker Eli Babalj will look to place a dent in his former mentor’s finals ambitions when the two meet at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
He may reflect upon his time working with current Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond fondly, but Melbourne Heart FC striker Eli Babalj will look to place a dent in his former mentor-s finals ambitions when the two meet at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
Babalj, 19, spent a season under van Egmond at the Australian Institute of Sport in 2009, developing a strong relationship with the former Socceroo defender.
“He-s been a good coach for me, one of the best I-ve had so far in my career,” Babalj said.
“I have a good relationship with him but that is going to be put to one side when we play on Saturday, so hopefully I can put one past his team.
“He-s doing well at Newcastle at the moment, they are playing the game he wants to implement, and I-m sure he-ll do well.”
The Perth-native has enjoyed a breakout season this campaign, emerging as one of the leading youngsters in the Hyundai A-League this season.
Netting four goals from 11 starts, Babalj introduction to the Heart starting line-up coincided with the side-s stellar mid-season run of seven wins from eight matches, catapulting the Red and White into finals contention.
Providing a focal point in attack, Babalj-s strength and sublime technical ability makes him a challenging proposition for opposition defences, with the added attention he draws creating space for the likes of Mate Dugandzic, Rutger Worm and Alex Terra.
But despite the plaudits bestowed upon him, Babalj remains unsatisfied with his own performance this season, revealing he hoped to have found the back of the net more regularly.
“I-m not happy with the tally I have so far, so I guess I just have to work on it and take the chances as they come,” he said.
“If I can score my goals and help the team to the playoffs, that-s even better, but (just) finishing in the playoffs is priority number one.”
Babalj is aiming to play a critical role in reigniting Heart-s finals charge this weekend as he looks to replicate the impact he made last time the Red and White faced the Newcastle Jets back in November.
“I go into every game trying to make the difference, and it won-t be different this week,” he said.
“(Last time we faced Newcastle) it was a good win 3-0 at home, but that was in the past and we just have to continue and hopefully do the same this week.
“It won-t be easy, they had a good result against Sydney, so it will be tough like every game in the stretch to the finals.”