|By GREIG JOHNSTON
Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi says the club is taking a cotton-wool approach with Vince Grella's return from a long injury lay-off, which could extend until the end of the year.
Grella has not played competitively since September 2011 after being beset by groin, hip and Achilles problems.
Aloisi said the midfielder had pulled up sore from a friendly match at training last week, and insisted he would play it safe with the 33-year-old to ensure he has a long-term impact.
"He didn't pull up as well as we would have liked," Aloisi said. "[There are] no major injuries or anything like that, it's just that we have to back off and not push him too hard and make sure that next time he plays, his body feels a little bit better.
"We never put a time limit on it. I'd love for him to be playing tomorrow, but he's not going to be. We'll just make sure he's right when he does play.
"[He's just got] stiffness in his whole body, when you've been out for so long [and] you haven't played regular football, it ends up doing that to you.
"Hopefully [we'll get him back] before the end of the year, and then all the way through to the end of the season."
Aloisi said the club's depth would be tested over the next few weeks, with three players - Aziz Behich, Richard Garcia and Michael Marrone - called up on Australia duty for EAFF East Asian Cup qualifying from December 1-9.
As well as Grella's absence, Mate Dugandzic is out for three months with a broken foot and Argentine midfielder Jonathan Germano is missing with a calf injury.
"That's a total of six, hopefully we don't have any more out, but that's why we've got the youth team and we're going to have to count on them and the players who haven't been playing regularly," Aloisi said.
"We're just going to have to make do and deal with it."
The Heart take on Newcastle at AAMI Park on Saturday night, and Aloisi said his defenders would have their hands full with Jets marquee man Emile Heskey, who has made a sterling start to life in the A-League.
"It's always good to see such a good player playing in this league," he said.
"I don't know if I'm excited watching Heskey, but I'm happy with where we're at defensively. We know what type of player Heskey is and we'll do our best to stop him from performing."