A POTENTIAL season-defining match against Heidelberg United lies in front of Ballarat Red Devils.
The McDonalds Reds will attempt to climb away from the National Premier Leagues Victoria relegation zone in the round 17 encounter at Morshead Park on Saturday.
Red Devils player manager James Robinson expects a tough encounter against the side that trumped Ballarat 4-2 the first time they met.
"They play a good brand of attacking football and they'll be a good test for us," he said.
Heidelberg features two players inside the top five scorers for this season, with Daniel Heffernan and Kaine Sheppard sitting on 12 and nine goals respectively.
However, Robinson said Ballarat's improved defence now has the tools to hold United at bay.
"We've got things to counteract them," Robinson said.
"We've got a lot of players coming back into the mix and a bit more match fitness."
Captain Charlie King has returned to full fitness and will be better for the run against Northcote City, while Daniel Tinker impressed in his return from injury in last week's 1-0 loss.
Robinson says competition is heating up for spots inside the Red Devils starting squad, evidenced by keeper Aaron Romein's inclusion back into the senior team after several weeks in the 20s.
"We're starting to have some players push for spots and that gives us a lot more flexibility to move and change things about," Robinson said.
"It brings the best out of the players."
Ballarat is still missing Shaun Romein, who has one more week to serve on an ongoing suspension, while Adrian Curtain is set to miss a further three rounds with a wrist injury.
Livewire forward Dom Swinton is still one to two weeks away from a return.
Ballarat v Heidelberg United
at Morshead Park on Saturday, 3pm
EXPECTED LINE-UP: A Romein, D Tinker, D O'Donnell, S Harding, D King, C King, L Harding, P Harvey, S Thomson, N Salvatore, D Aguek; James Robinson (coach), subs; J Franken, T Romein, M Baker, D Firth, B Salvatore.