MELBOURNE Heart have sounded out the Jets about signing captain Jobe Wheelhouse for the rest of the A-League season.
Wheelhouse is one of seven Jets off contract, following the departure of Tiago to Sydney FC on Thursday and the retention yesterday of promising defender Sam Gallaway on a two-year deal.
The industrious midfielder returned from a knee injury off the bench in the 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar and is again expected to be a substitute for the local derby against Central Coast Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium tonight.
The Heart have room on their roster and, with uncertainty over the immediate playing future of Vince Grella, are keen to add depth to their midfield during the A-League transfer window, which closes at the end of the month.
The Herald also understands that the Mariners have identified Wheelhouse as a potential replacement for John Hutchinson if, as expected, he is picked up by a Chinese Super League club at the end of the season.
The Jets are yet to start formal contract negotiations with Wheelhouse. When contacted last night, Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby said it was club policy not to comment on player retention and recruitment.
Wheelhouse, 27, is the Jets’ only remaining foundation player – Ben Kennedy was a trainee for the inaugural season – and in round six became the fourth player to notch 100 games, behind Matt Thompson (121), Tarek Elrich (134) and Adam D’Apuzzo (102).
In his second year as skipper, Wheelhouse had hoped to return to the starting side for the derby but will have to wait at least another week.
‘‘It is tough for Jobe,’’ Jets assistant coach Craig Deans said. ‘‘Josh Brillante was man of the match last week, and Ruben [Zadkovich] has been one of the best two or three players every week since Jobe has been out. Jobe understands how the dynamic of the team works. If you ask Jobe to play, of course he would, but at the moment Ruben and Josh have done a really good job.’’
The Jets are expected to make at least two changes for the clash against the leaders.
Josh Mitchell comes in for Taylor Regan, who strained his right calf at training on Thursday, and marquee man Emile Heskey returns at the point of the attack.
The Jets have recorded consecutive clean sheets, their first for the season, since Regan was united with Connor Chapman in the heart of the defence.
Scott Neville is also a chance of returning at right back in place of Andrew Hoole, despite the latter’s strong debut against the Roar.
Deans said Heskey had benefited from the week off to freshen up. His inclusion forces Ryan Griffiths into a wider role, with Craig Goodwin the most likely to make way.
‘‘The challenge for us is that no matter who plays the nine – if it is Emile, if it is Ryan or Adam Taggart – that we don’t change our style of play drastically,’’ Deans said.
‘‘Obviously you have to play to people’s strengths. If the ball gets into a wide area, getting a cross into Emile in the box is a good option.
‘‘For Ryan or Taggs, if the ball is in a wide area, maybe it is better to come back and look to play through the middle.
‘‘That is the challenge for the players, to adapt their game and decision-making,’’ Deans said.