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The Age
By FLEUR LEYDEN
Sunday 13 January 2002

Tennis ace and soccer enthusiast Goran Ivanisevic is expected to kick off tonight's National Soccer League match between the Melbourne Knights and Newcastle United at Knights Stadium.

The Wimbledon champion will warm up with the Knights before the 6pm match and, hopefully, provide some inspiration for a team that has won only once at home this season.

It will be the big-serving Croatian's third appearance at Sunshine, according to Knights' captain-coach Andrew Marth. Initially reported to be playing in the game, the Australian Open No.12 seed will, instead, avoid any potential injury before the Open and watch the game from the president's box.

As the Knights continue their losing streak at home, supporter numbers dwindle and crowd-pleasers are becoming essential.

Marth said the appearance by former Manchester United captain Eric Cantona in the Knights match against South Melbourne on February 9 will go ahead. Cantona's appearance would be a boost for the Knights, who can expect a 30,000-plus crowd and corporate backing.

Seventh on the ladder, the Knights last week lost 1-0 at home to Parramatta Power. A win tonight against the second-ranked Newcastle side would be a step in the right direction if they are to finish in the top six.

Marth conceded the game would be tough and the side's strategy involved a patient approach.

"We will be more patient than we have been in the past. In the past we scored early but were getting caught later on," he said. "Newcastle are a good team, but this is like a grand final to us. It's a must-win situation - we need to get our home record straight."

Although United is currently on a 10-match undefeated streak, its last loss, in round 30 last season, was to the Melbourne Knights.

Head-to-head, the home side has won 15 of 20 meetings (and drawn two) with United and has clinched eight victories from the nine games played in Melbourne over the regular season.

Marth said he will make player changes following the defeat by Paramatta Power, but where they will be is still undecided.

He said striker Toto da Costa, who sustained a quad muscle injury, would be playing, while a calf muscle injury would not sideline key striker Joel Porter.

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