Hernandez brace secures victory

A sublime double from Carlos Hernandez has sent Melbourne Victory three points clear at the top of the Hyundai A-League ladder after a well-deserved 2-0 win over North Queensland Fury at Etihad Stadium.

A sublime double from Carlos Hernandez has sent Melbourne Victory three points clear at the top of the Hyundai A-League ladder after a well-deserved 2-0 win over North Queensland Fury at Etihad Stadium.

With Archie Thompson (foot) and skipper Kevin Muscat (suspension) both absent, Hernandez struck in the 35th and 66th minutes to steer Victory within sight of a third Hyundai A-League Premiers' Plate in four seasons with one round remaining.

The win may have come at a cost, however, with key defender Matthew Kemp suffering a knee injury in the opening exchanges.

The result ends North Queensland's already slim hopes of a finals berth while Victory has everything to play for against arch rivals Sydney FC next Sunday.

After a moment's silence to honour the victims of the devastating Victorian bushfires that struck exactly one year ago, the action got underway in front of a healthy crowd of 22,726.

Melbourne's night began disastrously when Kemp hyper-extended his right knee in the opening minute.

The 29-year-old bravely fought on before he was assisted from the field by medical staff in just the 11th minute, with Evan Berger slotting into the back four.

Despite the setback, the first genuine shot fell to the hosts when Nick Ward flicked a clever ball across to Hernandez whose left-foot strike was deflected to safety by the Fury.

Victory continued to hold the ascendancy as Marvin Angulo put Hernandez into space and the Costa Rican forced a diving save from Justin Pasfield in the 16th minute.

Melbourne stayed on the attack as Tom Pondeljak sent a powerful right-foot strike just wide from the ensuing corner.

Hernandez looked to have opened his side's account on 21 minutes when his curling free-kick beat Pasfield but the Fury custodian was saved by the crossbar.

The Fury's first chance arrived on the half-hour in the form of a free kick to Robbie Fowler, but the former England international sent his curling effort into the top netting.

But it was the hosts who struck first blood when Hernandez produced a moment of brilliance after a searching run from Kruse down the right flank.

Having received the ball from Angulo inside the penalty box, Hernandez shook off defender James Downey before squeezing a powerful strike past Pasfield on the near post.

The Fury squandered a golden opportunity to equalise moments later when Beau Busch headed the ball wide from close range, before Robbie Middleby hit the woodwork after a deflection from Mitchell Langerak in the shadows of half-time.

With the season on the line, Fury coach Ian Ferguson inserted David Williams, and the move almost paid immediate dividends as the in-form striker came agonizingly close to equalising with his second touch.

Melbourne continued to threaten and looked set to double the lead as Nik Mrdja, who signed with Victory as an injury replacement on Friday, broke free.

But the new recruit, who was injected into the contest at half-time, failed to get his shot away.

Hernandez had no such trouble as he forced a fine save from Pasfield on the hour.

But the Fury custodian was helpless to stop the star import's curling free-kick in the 66th minute to give the hosts a two-goal buffer with 24 minutes remaining.

Fowler should have scored for the visitors in the 79th minute but the marquee man failed to find a vacant goal from close range.

Mrjda looked certain to score his first goal in a Victory shirt in stoppage time only to be denied by the woodwork.

Melbourne Victory 2 (Hernandez 35, 66) North Queensland Fury 0 Crowd: 22,726 @ Etihad Stadium