Surat set for return

Thai international defender Surat Sukha is set to return to Melbourne Victory's line-up for Saturday's Epworth ABI Cup clash against Central Coast at Etihad Stadium after sitting out for a week with a slight hamstring injury.

Thai international defender Surat Sukha is set to return to Melbourne Victory's line-up for Saturday's Epworth ABI Cup clash against Central Coast at Etihad Stadium after sitting out for a week with a slight hamstring injury.

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick confirmed that Sukha would definitely be back in the squad for the clash against the fourth-placed Mariners and he was a strong chance of starting the game.

"There won't be much change to the starting line-up. Again, we're looking for consistency and the boys are playing well. We've had a good run, there won't be many changes," he said.

"I should say that Surat looks like coming into the side, he'll definitely be in the squad. It was only a slight injury. We're happy with the way he's come up."

Sukha, who has been a real surprise packet for Victory this season, heads to Bangkok on Sunday to represent the national team along with team-mate Sutee Suksomkit in two Asian Cup qualification matches against Singapore.

Merrick said that he would maintain the faith with youngster Mate Dugandzic, who endured a torrid time from the Perth defenders in last week's 2-1 win over the Glory. He has backed the emerging star to weather the attention he is sure to receive from opposition defences and is not concerned that his young players will be targeted.

"It's part of their education, it's a physical game, it's a fast game, but it's also a very skilful game. You get caught out if you play that type of football. I thought Mate scrapped back last week, and I'll tell you, he is certainly in the starting line-up," Merrick said.

"We're very impressed with him. He's got it all, and he's got a very level head on him. I'm not saying he'll play every week, but he's certainly in the first XI this week."

Merrick faces off against another Scottish-born coach in Lawrie McKinna this week. The pair are the great survivors of the Hyundai A-League as the only two inaugural coaches to have stayed with their clubs over the four years of the competition.

The Melbourne coach believes the stability of having one person in charge has helped both Victory and the Mariners become the most consistent sides in the competition.

"I think there's definitely a benefit of continuity in coaches. Your staff are able to implement programs and develop programs. You've got less turnover of players and you get the opportunity of coaching players rather than just turning over players. If you look at the stats you'll see that the Mariners and ourselves have the lowest turnover of players in the league," he said.

"Lawrie's been very successful, he's been in two Grand Finals and won a Premiers' Plate. You know what a Grand Final's like. In a few seconds you can win or lose. We won our last one by one goal, but you can go either way. I think those Grand Final appearances and his win-loss record shows that continuity of coaches in a club is very beneficial. I hope he stays on there, and I hope I get the opportunity to stay on as well."

McKinna admits he has changed his approach somewhat this season and as a result the Mariners are clearly the hardest team to score against in the competition. He believes his defenders have the confidence to take on attacking teams, even Melbourne, which has been the best at scoring goals in the Hyundai A-League this season.

"Confidence is an amazing thing for your team. If somebody can invent tablets which give you confidence, you'd be set for life. We're playing with a lot more confidence and belief in each other. Boys read papers, listen to TV and hear people hammering them because they are letting in goals. We've realised we can't be 100 miles an hour and charge at teams like we did in the first couple of years," he said.

However, both Merrick and McKinna agree that Saturday night's clash, which will help raise awareness of Acquired Brain Injury and the effects of road trauma, will be an open match.

"I think it will be a very exciting end to end game with a lot of flair and a lot of midfield play and it won't be a case of two defences holding out, I'm looking forward to it," Merrick said.