Merrick ready for road test

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick believes the club's next three successive road trips - starting with Friday night's clash against Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand - will be a major test of his team's finals credentials this season.

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick believes the club's next three successive road trips - starting with Friday night's clash against Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand - will be a major test of his team's finals credentials this season.

Merrick believes the team, which sits three points clear on top in the Hyundai A-League after last week's 2-1 win over Central Coast, is beginning to show signs of the mental toughness that helped propel the club to the championship two seasons ago.

But with matches against the much-improved Phoenix plus Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets to come in succession - before a run of five home games in the last six rounds after Christmas - Merrick believes the next three matches will be crucial in not only determining whether or not the team makes the finals but whether this current team has kind of mental toughness needed to win championships.

"The next three games will be crucial for our finals aspirations," Merrick said on Wednesday just before the Victory flew to New Zealand for Friday night's game.

"We are playing three teams, all in the bottom half of the table, but we are playing them all away from home and there is a fair bit of travelling involved."

"And all three teams have improved out of sight so there will be no easy games."

Merrick said if the Victory players can show they can cope with the heavy travel schedule and three difficult opponents away from home in succession it will auger well for a successful season.

"A team that gets into the finals has got to be tough because you have got to be even tougher in the finals and our boys are used to playing in front of very hostile away crowds and a very large home support and you need particular traits to be able to do that," he said.

While loathe to compare the Victory's form this season - the club is three points clear on top of the ladder with nine rounds remaining - with the championship season two years ago, Merrick admitted the current team still had to prove it had the same character of the successful 2006/07 team.

"There is just too many changes (in personnel) to say it's a similar type team but there are some things you look for in a successful team and that is having highly motivated, hard working players with lots of skill, a consistency of performance and a mental attitude and toughness which says we really want to achieve something and that is beginning to show in our team (this season)," he said.

"But the standard of the league this season in season four is so much higher than it was in season two (when Melbourne won the championship)."

Meanwhile Melbourne has made just one change to its squad which came from behind to defeat the Mariners last week with Costa Rican international Jose Luiz Lopez returning to the squad from international duty in place of youngster Leigh Broxham.