Victory target fast start

A longer Hyundai A-League season won't change Melbourne's emphasis on making a strong start to the season with skipper Kevin Muscat putting the acid on his troops to kick-off season 2009/10 with a win against the Central Coast on Thursday night at Etihad Stadium.

A longer Hyundai A-League season won't change Melbourne's emphasis on making a strong start to the season with skipper Kevin Muscat putting the acid on his troops to kick-off season 2009/10 with a win against the Central Coast on Thursday night at Etihad Stadium.

Muscat points to Melbourne's two successful Hyundai A-League campaigns in 2006/07 and 2008/09 as examples of the importance of making a strong start to defining the standard of the season.

"In all our successful campaigns we've got off to good starts, and that's our main focus at this point and time. Tomorrow night's game and then the following one on Saturday week," he said.

But Muscat does not believe it will be an easy assignment taking on a Mariners team which has also flown under the radar in the pre-season. Like the Victory, the Mariners have made two Grand Finals over the four years of the competition to be one of the most consistent teams in the league.

It's something the veteran defender has a strong appreciation of heading into the game, especially when it comes to the Mariners' traditional physical style of play.

"I don't expect any less of them. I've got the utmost respect for (Mariners manager) Lawrie (McKinna) and what he's done in the four seasons previous. I expect no different tomorrow night. They'll be very difficult to break down and very difficult to beat and he's done tremendously well. We're really going to have to be at the top of our game tomorrow night," he said.

But before they get out on the park on Thursday, coach Ernie Merrick has had a battle already. For the first time in four years, Merrick has a full squad of 21 to pick from for the first game and said it has been difficult deciding his final XI.

"It's tough and that's the way it should be. That's the ideal situation where you are really struggling to decide on your final line-up. When you're struggling to find a first XI, that's when you're in trouble," Merrick said.

"It's a problem we had all of last year, and it's a great problem to have. We've got a great depth, and given it's 27 rounds, we'll need the depth."

Merrick has picked a squad of 16 for the match, with Surat Sukha, Steven Pace, Mathew Theodore and Daniel Vasilevski left out, and Nathan Elasi on international duty.

Billy Celeski is still around 90 percent after off-season surgery on his hip and will not start on the pitch opening the way for Leigh Broxham to have his first start in a Hyundai A-League game since the final match of the 2007/08 season.

"After the way last season went personally, I've got over all my injuries and Ernie's been happy with me and I've been playing. It's about putting everything behind me and looking forward to this year," Broxham said.

As for Muscat, who celebrates his 36th birthday on Friday, he's as excited as ever to be back playing competitive football after playing every minute of the Victory's successful 2008/09 campaign.

"I feel very good. I've had 16 or 17 weeks of planned pre-season. I'm grateful to Ernie and his staff, they manage me very well. That goes for the rest of the squad, we're just jumping out of our skin to get underway tomorrow night," he said.

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