Merrick proud of Victory

Melbourne Victory's Asian adventure might have ended with elimination in the group stage yet again but coach Ernie Merrick could not be prouder of the efforts of his players throughout a difficult AFC Champions League campaign in 2009/10.

Melbourne Victory's Asian adventure might have ended with elimination in the group stage yet again but coach Ernie Merrick could not be prouder of the efforts of his players throughout a difficult AFC Champions League campaign in 2009/10.

As was the case in the club's first campaign two years ago, Melbourne has failed to qualify for the knockout stages of Asia's premier club competition following Wednesday night's 0-0 draw with Beijing Guoan at Docklands.

The result left Melbourne with just four points from five games and still three points behind second-placed Beijing, whom the Victory now cannot overtake due to their inferior head-to-head record against the Chinese club, which beat Melbourne 1-0 in the opening group game in China.

That match was played just five days after the first leg of Melbourne's semi-final clash with Sydney FC while the second group game was played just two days after the second leg of that semi.

And to complete a horror schedule, Melbourne's third game in the group phase was straight after the heart-breaking grand final loss to the Sky Blues.

While Merrick refused to blame the scheduling for Melbourne's failure to reach the group stages for the first time, he admitted after Wednesday night's 0-0 draw which eliminated the Victory that it had been a tough campaign on the players.

"We are certainly unhappy with the results but I think our players did a fantastic job in the Asian Champions League under very difficult circumstances," he said.

Melbourne not only battled fatigue at the end of a long domestic campaign but also injury to key players with Archie Thompson, Matthew Kemp, Grant Brebner, Billy Celeski and Tom Pondeljak all missing against the Chinese champions on Wednesday night while both Nick Ward and Carlos Hernandez got off their sick beds to play.

"I think we had a bench of six players tonight and five of them were amateurs who have been playing in our youth team and training twice a week," Merrick said.

"We finished with seven players aged 22 or under on the pitch and none of those youngsters let us down."

And while admitting his team looked flat for the first 25 minutes, Merrick said the Victory could easily have beaten Beijing after looking the better side after half-time.

"With a bit of luck we could have scored tonight but overall the boys under very difficult circumstances did a very good job and I was very proud of them," he said.

And Merrick believes that when Melbourne again contests the AFC Champions League next season it will perform much better, provided it has a full list of players at its disposal.

"I think we have got good quality in our squad and I think any A-League team that manages at the end of the (domestic season) to have a fit and healthy side and put out close to their best 11 will do what Adelaide is doing (and qualify for the knockout stages)," he said.

"But as soon as we lose two or three players (to injury) you are delving into your youngsters (to make up the squad) because of the way our squads are set up with the salary cap and a limited number of squad members."

"And when you are competing against squads worth $20 million with 40 full-time professionals who have been hardened over a period of time, it-s always going to be tough for an A-League club (to compete)."