|By DANIEL COLASIMONE
Brisbane Roar veteran Shane Stefanutto says he and his teammates thrive on the big occasions, and are looking forward to the do-or-die matches facing them in the coming weeks.
The Roar sit seventh in the A-League ladder but can ensure qualification for the finals by winning their last two regular-season matches, against Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC respectively.
After a four-match unbeaten run, Brisbane put in their worst performance in recent weeks in losing 1-0 to the Central Coast Mariners last Sunday, but they will take heart from the fact they control their own finals destiny.
Left-back Stefanutto says the Roar players perform at their best in the type of critical games coming up.
"It's a massive week to come," Stefanutto said after training on Wednesday.
"And it's great isn't it? It's great for the A-League. The A-League is close this year, especially for those last couple of spots and even the Premiers' Plate.
"So it's an exciting finish to the season and I couldn't ask for anything more as a football fan myself."
Both the Roar's remaining games are at Suncorp Stadium and, even if they failed to take all six points, they would still be in with a chance of overtaking sixth-placed Newcastle, who have one game less to play.
Home ground advantage for the clashes with Heart and Sydney FC would aid the Roar's finals ambitions, according to Stefanutto.
"I really hope that [the fans] come out and support us like they have in previous weeks, and especially against the Victory. The atmosphere there was fantastic, and it does help us, it gives us a lift," he said.
"We want to win for the fans. We're a club and our fans are so important and we want to make this Sunday a special day for the fans and everyone associated with the club.
"We just have to take care of our own business and that's Melbourne Heart, Sunday, our home ground, hopefully a big crowd and put in a good performance.
"If you don't start winning these games, you probably shouldn't be in the finals. So it's a matter of going out there again and doing the business.
"We like these big games. We enjoy playing Central Coast, we enjoy playing Melbourne Victory, we'll enjoy playing Melbourne Heart this week at home and then we'll finish with Sydney.
"We'll enjoy these occasions and the pressure will build and that'll be good for us as a unit.
"We want to be successful and to be successful you've got to do well in these big games and that's what we intend to do."
With centre-back Jade North absent for the game against Melbourne Heart due to Australia international duty, Brisbane will be forced to make changes to a defence that has only conceded two goals in the last five A-League rounds.
The various options for coach Mike Mulvey include bringing in Matthew Jurman as a direct replacement for North, or using Stefanutto or Ivan Franjic to fill that role, which would force changes elsewhere in the formation.
"That's for the boss to decide. That's why he's the head man - he gets to have these headaches, I guess," Stefanutto said.
"But we do know whoever will come in will do the job. The squad is doing really well on the training track at the moment, everyone's putting in, and that's what we need.
"We wish Jado [North] good luck. I think it's great for the club that he's representing the Socceroos, he definitely deserves it, he's been great for us the last month, so it will be a loss, but it's just an opportunity for someone else."