Merrick: New-look Etihad a boost

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick expects the reconfiguration of Etihad Stadium into a rectangular arena for Saturday night's Hyundai A-League clash against Gold Coast to be a major advantage for his side.

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick expects the reconfiguration of Etihad Stadium into a rectangular arena for Saturday night's Hyundai A-League clash against Gold Coast to be a major advantage for his side.

For this first time in a Hyundai A-League match, the stands on all four sides of the pitch have been brought in, creating an atmosphere which Merrick thinks will lift his team.

"I think it's going to be ten times better with the crowd being brought up close to the touchline. They-ll be able to feel the tackles, they'll be able to see the fire coming out of Muscat's nostrils, they will be able to hear the sound of the shot as its hammered from Carlos into the net hopefully," Merrick said.

"The connect is really important between us and our fans and we feed off that. To bring the stands in this week will be even better for us."

Victory has long described the crowd at its games as its 12th man, with over 50,000 watching each of the club's two Grand Finals successes in 2007 and 2009 at Etihad Stadium. But they will never be as close as they'll be on Saturday and Merrick thinks that with the club set to move a chunk of matches to the new rectangular stadium for the 2010-11 season, it is a taste of things to come.

“I think it-s a major factor and looking at that new stadium were going to have next season and knowing the fans are going to be virtually on top of the pitch that the atmosphere that our fans create is second to none and we-ll feed off of that," he said.

However, despite the terrific home support, Melbourne has struggled at Etihad Stadium this season, winning just two of eight matches. Merrick thinks that perhaps the excitement of playing at home has been a distraction this year and his players need to focus more on their defensive responsibilities.

"Our fans are so supportive and get behind us, perhaps we attack too much and not consider our defensive effort," he said.

"They need a bit of patience and our attacking midfielders and strikers being conscientious that when we don't have the ball, we-ve all got to fight for the ball."

"Not just the backline. I actually think the backline has been playing very well. We've all got to put in collectively and that's something we-ve worked on and we showed last week we can do it."

Merrick has brought in Ney Fabiano, Nathan Elasi, Matthew Foschini and Surat Sukha into an extended squad for the match, with Tom Pondeljak still on the sidelines for at least another week. Sukha is also unlikely to play as well as he recovers from injury.