Preview: Gold Coast United v Melbourne Victory

Having put in its best performance of the season in Adelaide last week, the assignment does not get any easier for Victory which travels to the Gold Coast for a first-ever clash with the Hyundai A-League new boy.


Date: Saturday September 26 Kick-off: 7:30pm AEST Venue: Skilled Park, Robina

TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au Head-to-head Never played

Last five matches: Gold Coast United: Round 3: Adelaide United 0, Gold Coast United 2, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 4: Newcastle Jets 1, Gold Coast United 0, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 5: Gold Coast United 2, Sydney FC 1, Skilled Park Round 6: Perth Glory 2, Gold Coast United 2, ME Bank Stadium Round 7: Central Coast Mariners 3, Gold Coast United 0, Bluetongue Stadium

Melbourne Victory: Round 3: North Queensland Fury 0, Melbourne Victory 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 4: Perth Glory 2, Melbourne Victory 1, ME Bank Stadium Round 5: Melbourne Victory 1, Newcastle Jets 1, Etihad Stadium Round 6: Melbourne Victory 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Etihad Stadium Round 7: Adelaide United 0, Melbourne Victory 2, Hindmarsh Stadium

Analysis: Having put in its best performance of the season in Adelaide last week, the assignment does not get any easier for Victory which travels to the Gold Coast for a first-ever clash with the Hyundai A-League new boy.

Gold Coast has impressed almost everyone with its style and pace through the first seven rounds of the season, which has seen them win four and draw one to sit top of the table. The new club's best two wins have come on home soil, with a 5-0 win over North Queensland and a 2-1 success over Sydney. But its most recent performance was a 3-0 loss to a resurgent Central Coast Mariners, raising questions on whether the team is starting to lose a little of its lustre.

Key to its smashing start to the season has been the form of Shane Smeltz, who has scored nine goals. But Smeltz had a dirty night at Bluetongue Stadium last week, which saw him sent off, meaning he is suspended for this match. Miron Bleiberg has called back striker Joel Porter, who has missed the past two with a calf injury, while Andrew Barisic is back from suspension and Robson has recovered from a knee injury. James Brown is also into a squad which will see three omitted on match day.

However, while he is getting some players back, Bleiberg is still missing the likes of Jefferson (knee), Tahj Minniecon (Young Socceroos), Zenon Caravella (hip), Daniel Piorkowski (ankle) and Scott Higgins (shoulder).

Jason Culina is United's main man and his performances this season have justified the hype which followed his decision to join the club after 10 years in Europe. The Qantas Socceroo mainstay pulls the strings in the middle of the park and is the key man in creating attacking opportunities. Ernie Merrick is not too concerned about man-marking Culina, but did admit that they will have to limit the supply to him in order to get on top in the match.

Just when the Melbourne side was starting to look settled, another player has gone down to injury, with Nick Ward, so impressive in an advanced role last week, spending most of the week in hospital being treated for an infection. There are question marks over Tom Pondeljak and Robbie Kruse, but in positive news, Evan Berger is set to return from the bench just three weeks after a hernia operation.

With Ward out, and Pondeljak doubtful, Merrick faces a bit of a quandary in terms of who he teams with Archie Thompson. Ney Fabiano could come in and form an attacking threesome with Carlos Hernandez, but there is no doubt Hernandez plays better with the strikers in front of him, rather than alongside.

The other selection question is whether Merrick goes for three central defenders again and pushes Matthew Kemp and Surat Sukha wide as he did against Adelaide last week. Gold Coast don't tend to play much down the wings, but instead rely on rapid ball movement in the middle of the park, so Merrick and co will have a busy time trying to work out the best way of counteracting that.

The Melbourne coach has insisted his men will play their own natural game and should that occur, then this looms as a high-stakes, attacking spectacle which should provide plenty of highlights. As well as a test of depth for both sides, it's also a test of nerves and the result here will set the tone for the rest of the season for either side.

Gold Coast United Squad: 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 2.Steve PANTELIDIS, 3.Michael THWAITE, 5.ROBSON, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 11.MILSON, 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14.Joel PORTER, 16.Kristian REES, 17.Matt OSMAN, 18.James BROWN, 19.Andrew BARISIC, 22.Adama TRAORE, 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS, 24.ANDERSON, 25.Steven LUSTICA, 26.Golgol MEBRAHTU, 40.Robbie BAJIC (gk). *three to be omitted*

In: Joel PORTER (return from calf injury), Andrew BARISIC (return from suspension), James BROWN (promoted), ROBSON (return from knee injury). Out: Shane SMELTZ (suspended - 1 week). Unavailable: JEFFERSON (knee injury - 4 weeks), Tahj MINNIECON (international duty). Zenon CARAVELLA (hip injury - 1 week), Shane SMELTZ (suspended - 1 week), Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury - 10 weeks). Scott HIGGINS (gk) (shoulder injury - 1 week)

Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 23.Adrian LEIJER *two to be omitted*

In: Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted), Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Evan BERGER (return from injury) Out: Nick WARD (groin - 2 weeks) Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee - season), Nathan ELASI (international duty), Mathew THEODORE (glute - 2 weeks), Steven PACE (abdominal - 2 weeks)