Merrick: Petar can handle pressure

Victory coach Ernie Merrick has backed 18-year-old Petar Franjic to thrive under the pressure of A-League football after the defender was called in to replace injured centre back Adrian Leijer for Saturday's crucial game against Sydney at the SFS.

Victory coach Ernie Merrick has backed 18-year-old Petar Franjic to thrive under the pressure of A-League football after the defender was called in to replace injured centre back Adrian Leijer for Saturday's crucial game against Sydney at the SFS.

Franjic gets his chance with Leijer succumbing to a quad injury and captain Kevin Muscat suspended and Merrick has every faith the teenager will be able to cope with the pressure of filling the shoes of two of the Victory's most influential players.

"I think Petar Franjic is a terrific up-and-coming centre back and he-ll be starting," Merrick said on Friday. "I think he is the sort of lad to cope with the pressure very well. You can never tell until they are in the midst of it, but that's what we have to deal with, teaching the younger guys to deal with that pressure."

Victory's depth is being strongly tested at the moment and they go into this game without first-choice players of the calibre of Leijer, Muscat, Archie Thompson, Robbie Kruse, Matthew Kemp and Surat Sukha.

Evan Berger will also miss with hamstring tightness, meaning three changes to the side which lost 4-1 to Adelaide last week.

Matthew Foschini and Tommy Pondeljak are the other two additions, but are likely to come on to the bench, with Leigh Broxham and Marvin Angulo likely to start

"We're going into this game a bit fresher and not too much of a change up front or in midfield. It's just defensive changes," Merrick said,

Merrick said Saturday night's game will give him a good idea of how his younger players handle the pressure in the absence of the club's captain and vice-captain.

"We've been outstanding at coping with that pressure because our senior players are used to being at the top and doing what it takes to win games. The challenge now is for the younger players to start using that pressure in a positive way," he said.

Grant Brebner will take the captain's armband while Merrick will persist with the attacking combination of Danny Allsopp and Ricardinho.

"The game always comes down to goals being scored and as soon as you've got a goalscorer it changes how the team play and how the opposition play," he said.

"For seven weeks, we didn't have any problems in that area, but as the side changes it gives you new challenges there. The bottom line, without Robbie and Archie up front, we need to find other goalscorers. We've got players capable of doing it, but unless we score goals, we aren't going to threaten any team."

"I'm a great one for continuity. It's about reading the play and timing the passes for these guys, and to me Ricardinho and Danny are all the better off for playing together for a full game last week," he said.

"It's beginning to work more and more and Mate Dugandzic is always a good option off the bench. He's got a knack of popping up and scoring goals."