Nik, Carlos boost Victory

A masterful performance from Carlos Hernandez and a promising debut from new recruit Nik Mrdja have given Melbourne a timely boost on the eve of the Hyundai A-League Finals series.

A masterful performance from Carlos Hernandez and a promising debut from new recruit Nik Mrdja have given Melbourne a timely boost on the eve of the Hyundai A-League Finals series.

The 2-0 win over North Queensland on Friday at Etihad Stadium has Melbourne in the driver's seat to win the Premiers' Plate. Melbourne will go into the final round in top spot and the premiership there for the taking if it can defeat Sydney at the SFS.

Melbourne may have been missing two of its most important players in Archie Thompson and Kevin Muscat, and lost Matthew Kemp to a knee injury in the first five minutes, but it put in an excellent performance. It was spearheaded by the brilliant Costa Rican Hernandez, who underlined his class and versatility with two quality finishes.

The first came after 35 minutes, when he outmanoeuvred Jimmy Downey, turned and fired low and hard past Justin Pasfield in the North Queensland goal. After wowing the crowd with something audacious, he backed it up with an old standard, the bullet-like free kick.

Having already rattled Pasfield's bar, it was clear Carlos' radar was on. His 66th-minute shot was perfect, clearing the wall and ducking in at the near top corner for a 12th goal of the season. The performance had the usually-reserved Ernie Merrick in raptures.

"Carlos was outstanding. Not only was he scoring goals but he created so much and towards the end set up Aziz Behich and Nik Mrdja. He truly had an outstanding performance, Carlos. Best attacking midfielder I've ever worked with," he said.

Mrdja, meanwhile, got off the plane to put in a promising 45-minute shift at his new club. There was barely enough time for his head to spin as the 31-year-od was thrown into the action in the second half.

He immediately made his physical presence felt, while his touch, one of his defining characteristics in his long career in the Australian league, was there for all to see.

"I thought it was a great debut for Nik, who offers us something different up front. His height, his strength, he's good in the air. He laid off a couple of tremendous balls. Very happy with Nik Mrdja and what a great signing," Merrick said.

"We talked about what we expected, but he'd just come off a plane and was straight on the bench. Off the bench we couldn't have asked more other than a goal and we nearly got that, he hit the cross-bar."

Kemp will receive a scan on his knee over the weekend, but the diagnosis is not good, with the defender expected to miss at least the rest of the season with what looks like an ACL injury.

It was the only low-point on a night where the depth that Merrick has talked about for much of the season came to the fore.

"Every year, there's always challenges arise, whether you are on a bad run or you lose players or whatever," Merrick said.

"I think it-s just turned out this way that we-ve had more challenges than we have had previously but we've got a lot of belief in the depth of our squad, the goalscoring ability, the creative ability and our rock solid defence," he said. "To see all these boys continually step up is very rewarding."