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Oct 30, 2009   |  10:08PM AET

Form over reputation for Melbourne

Form over reputation for Melbourne

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick maintains selection will be based on form not reputation as the club looks to manage an influx of returning players in the upcoming weeks.

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick maintains selection will be based on form not reputation as the club looks to manage an influx of returning players in the upcoming weeks.

Preparing for Sunday’s clash against Perth at ME Bank Stadium, Merrick has few selection worries, with Rody Vargas to come back in for Surat Sukha who has a hamstring strain.

But with Nick Ward, Robbie Kruse and Evan Berger likely to become available in the next couple of weeks, the Melbourne coach will face a few selections quandaries.

Merrick has backed Mate Dugandzic, who scored two goals in last week’s win over Adelaide, to hold his place in the starting side, saying players who perform well would not be asked to make way for those returning from injuries.

“We’ve said to him, that’s your spot as long as you want to keep it now. When senior players come back, they’ve got to earn their spot. It’s up to them to keep. That’s what we did with Adrian Leijer in season one and he’s never looked back since then,” he said.

“He’s a very confident young man, he’s very mature. But he’s one of those boys who hasn’t got ahead of himself. He listens to all the senior players in training. He’s very coachable, he’s great to work with, for both (assistant coach) Aaron (Healey) and I. His pace in technical ability is really shining through now. He’ll cause a lot of problems for defences.”

Dugandzic is one of a number of strong young talents to be unearthed by Melbourne and Merrick said the energy he brings into a game like Perth may help Melbourne turn around its recent poor record in Perth this week.

“Fresh players coming in, it’s an exciting new game for them and 90 minutes from Mate over there, he’d be really looking forward to it,” he said.

“To get another youngster who has just turned 20 like Mate Dugandzic, who’s really comfortable in front of goals and very confident in his ability has just been great for us. We’ve got Robbie Kruse to come in. In our squad we’ve got seven players who are 21 and under and they are looking very confident on the field. It’s good to see.”

Sunday’s game looms as a big one for Melbourne, with a chance the club could claim top spot for the first time this season depending on Sydney’s performance against Wellington earlier in the day.

Melbourne has not won a Hyundai A-League match at ME Bank Stadium in three years, but Merrick has backed his players to overcome the hoodoo and record a sixth win in their past seven matches.

“We’ve had a good run, we’ve won five out of the last six games, but Perth is our bogey side and we have to change that, I think it was the 24th of September 2006, our only win ever over there and we’ve got to fix that,” he said.

“You wouldn’t want to change with our recent run of success. On the road, we are doing really well. It comes down to individual attitude of the players, they’ve really got to get their own heads right for this one,” he said.

“We know we can do it. We’re playing good football home and away. We did well when we needed to against Adelaide and Newcastle, but I don’t know sometimes you psych yourself out in that trip, but there’s no excuses we need to do well over in Perth.”