Preview: Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory

Coach Ernie Merrick has described this match as a good yardstick to see how his more attacking game plan is playing out.

Date: Sunday August 24
Kick-off (local time): 3:00pm AEST (5pm local)
Venue: Westpac Stadium
TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3 and Sky Sports 1. Hyundai A-League club radio broadcast partner is Radio Network (Wellington) 1035AM.

Three Hyundai A-League meetings: Melbourne – 1 win, Wellington – 0 wins, Draws 2

Previous Hyundai A-League meeting
Melbourne Victory 3, Wellington Phoenix 0, Telstra Dome, Round 20, January 2008

Results so far
Wellington Phoenix
Round 1: Wellington Phoenix 1, Queensland Roar 1, Westpac Stadium

Round 1: Sydney FC 0, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium

Coach Ernie Merrick has described this match as a good yardstick to see how his more attacking game plan is playing out. After dominating Sydney for much of the season opener, a 0-0 draw was a bit of a disappointing outcome, but the signs were all there the Victory is ready to fire early in the new campaign.

Michael Thwaite and Carlos Hernandez were two standouts in that match with Thwaite clearly at home in the A-League and a leaner meaner Hernandez ready to run at opposition defenders. The one let down was finishing, with Melbourne unable to convert four clear chances.

But, as Merrick said on Thursday, if you keep on creating chances the goals will follow. Certainly there is no concern about leaking goals with Melbourne’s net unruffled in the final three games of the pre-season and the first game of the season. That’s 360 minutes.

That will give Mitch Langerak plenty of encouragement as he steps in for the injured Michael Theoklitos, who rolled his ankle in training and will have the week off. His precocious understudy appears to love the opportunity to show what he can do and it will be fascinating to see how he goes against the Phoenix.

Wellington managed to get a point out of its opening game against Queensland thanks to Shane Smeltz, who continues to bang the goals in for Ricki Herbert’s side. But he will know how tough Melbourne’s defence is after struggling to make an impact when they met in the Pre-Season Cup, just over two weeks ago.

That match wasn’t much of a spectacle with both sides showing fatigue after a whirlwind pre-season campaign. Merrick said his side had played well below their best and Herbert wasn’t overenthusiastic about his team’s efforts either.

Wellington brings in livewire Leilei Gao for this match, while skipper Andrew Durante is the major change from when these teams met in the Pre-Season Cup final. Victory also has a key inclusion from that match with Kevin Muscat back after returning from a hamstring injury last week

Melbourne is still without Nick Ward, Archie Thompson and Daniel Vasilevski, but Grant Brebner is ready to return after a long period on the sidelines. Leigh Broxham and Billy Celeski have had time to recover from their Olympic exertions.

The fact Merrick has a few selection headaches is a good sign for Melbourne, which has won one and drawn two of its A-League games against the Phoenix. Merrick will wait and leave his two players out of his final 15 when they arrive in Wellington.

Melbourne drew its first five matches last season, but Merrick is determined that won’t happen again this time around. Expect Victory to attack and plenty more fireworks than the Pre-Season Cup Final.

Wellington Phoenix Squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. Karl DODD, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Michael FERRANTE, 11. DANIEL, 12. Richard JOHNSON, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 15. Adam KWASNIK, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Glen MOSS (gk), 21. Leilei GAO, 22. Andrew DURANTE (captain), 25. Manny MUSCAT.
* two to be omitted

In. Leilei GAO (return from injury), Ben SIGMUND (promoted).
Out. Nil.
Unavailable. Vince Lia (knee – season).

Melbourne Victory Squad 2.Kevin MUSCAT (Captain), 3.Michael THWAITE, 4.Steven PACE, 6.Steve PANTELIDIS, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8. Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Jose Luis LOPEZ, 18.Leigh BROXHAM, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 30.Tommi TOMICH (gk)
*Two to be omitted

In. Grant BREBNER, Tommi TOMICH (on loan).
Out. Nathan ELASI (National U/20 duties), Sebastian RYALL (National U/20 duties), Michael THEOKLITOS (injured ankle – 1week).
Unavailable. Archie THOMPSON (ankle – 1 week), Daniel VASILEVSKI (hip – 3 weeks), Nick WARD (calf – 1 week).