Effort pleases Merrick

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick took plenty of positives out of Friday night’s 1-0 loss to South American giant Boca Juniors.

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick took plenty of positives out of Friday night’s 1-0 loss to South American giant Boca Juniors.

The hosts may have been beaten at Etihad Stadium thanks to a well-taken goal from Marcelo Canete just before half-time, Canete taking full advantage of a stray back pass from Rody Vargas, but Merrick was far from disappointed with the performance.

After a slow start in the first 45 minutes, particularly in the opening exchanges when he believes the occasion and opposition may have been an intimidating factor, Merrick was delighted that it was only a lack of polish in the final third that prevented his team at least forcing a draw.

“I was very happy with having a game like that,” Merrick said.

“I thought in the first half it was a bit like a pre-season game and the boys were a little bit nervous.”

“But we still created a chance with Mate Dugandzic and Marvin Angulo.”

“But they took their goal well, a bit of a mistake, (a) back pass (and their) striker finished under a lot of pressure, (he) finished well.”

“But in the second half we started to get into a rhythm, (there were) some good passages of play from both teams, (there was) a lot of feeling in the game and we got out of it exactly what we wanted.”

Merrick believes that the match, his team’s second of a four-game pre-season that includes hit-outs to come against Dandenong Thunder and then the Mariners, is an ideal preparation for the first match of the Hyundai A-League campaign away to Sydney FC in the grand final rematch.

“We were particularly happy with the intensity in the second half,” he added.

“This is the best way to prepare for the league so we talked about it at half-time, the boys stepped up, we started holding the ball in the middle (and) getting good service forward.”

Comfortable that he has a settled squad three weeks out from the start of the season, with veteran skipper Kevin Muscat and Costa Rican midfielder Carlos Hernandez still to slot back in after missing the Boca game, Merrick’s one wish is to find another striker.

“I think we need a striker in our team but I was pretty happy creating four chances and we didn’t put any of them away,” said Merrick, who also joked that he wished Boca coach Claudio Borghi would leave one of his strikers behind as a parting gift.

“But it was good to see us create those.”

“It’s a thing that we’re well aware of … (and) it would be ideal to have another striker there’s no doubt about it.”

With Merrick pleased by his team’s ability to match it at times with Boca in terms of stringing passes together, his wish now is to maintain that standard for longer periods while stand-in skipper Adrian Leijer is happy to be back in action as he sets about trying to atone for the grand final defeat.

“Obviously it was hard to take last year and personally for me it’s spurring me on a lot,” Leijer said of the loss to Sydney FC on penalties.

“So to get out there tonight, first real hit-out of pre-season was exciting and everyone was really looking forward to it.”

“We’ve been training very hard and there’s only so much you can do in training so to get out there and put it into a real game against a quality opposition like Boca was great for us and it will help us a lot heading into Round 1.”