SYDNEY — Former champions Brisbane and Central Coast pulled out of late-season slumps with weekend victories in Australian football's A-League while the Melbourne Heart, recently in last place, continued a spectacular rise.
The 2011 and 2012 champions Brisbane bounced back from recent losses to the Heart and Newcastle with a commanding 3-1 win over Perth, which left them seven points clear of Western Sydney in first place after 21 of 27 rounds.
Defending champions Central Coast arrested a more dramatic losing spiral — losses in its last four games — with a 2-1 win over Sydney FC which left it in fourth place.
While the Heart are still eighth and four points outside the top six, their 4-0 derby triumph over the Melbourne Victory was their fifth straight win and their sixth in seven games from which they have taken 19 of 21 points.
The Heart had their last defeat in round 14 in early January — a 3-0 loss to Perth who have now sunk to last place. They posted their first win of the season on Jan. 17, 3-1 over Newcastle, followed that with a 2-2 draw with Adelaide and have since beaten Sydney FC (2-1), Perth (2-1), Wellington (5-0), Brisbane (1-0) and now their bitter local rivals.
Goals from Orlando Engelaar and Mate Dugandzic within the first 15 minutes on Saturday set the Heart on course for their largest-ever derby win over the Victory. David Williams added the third in the 83rd minute, after the Victory had been reduced to 10 men, and Harry Kewell the fourth three minutes later and only two minutes after coming on as a substitute.
"It's not always easy to score against 10 men but we did an excellent job to keep the pressure on," Heart coach John van't Schip said.
Central Coast's four-match losing streak was the longest by a reigning A-League champion since 2009, made worse by a midweek loss to FC Seoul in the Asian Champions League. Coach Phil Moss said he was relieved his players had been able to stabilize their campaign with their third win over Sydney FC this season.
"I feel relieved tonight," Moss said. "But the last four or five weeks I've embraced it because am I fighter and I love a challenge.
"I think I've learned a lot about myself in the last five weeks as a person and a coach than if we'd had five wins."
Seung-Yong Kim opened the scoring for Central Coast with a superb goal from a free kick in the 26th minute, cancelled out by Richard Garcia's equalizer in the 62nd minute. Mitchell Duke clinched the win in the 75th minute, extending Central Coast's unbeaten home streak against Sydney which stretches back to 2008.
Brisbane coach Mike Mulvey said his team played itself back into form during its 3-1 win over Perth. After an uncertain start, a set-piece goal to Ivan Franjic steadied Brisbane and goals Liam Miller and Thomas Broich signalled its increasing confidence.
"We were jittery early on," Mulvey said. "I'm very proud of the players and very pleased for the players because they've copped some stick of late and that's the best way to bounce back."