Ward the X-factor

Skilful midfielder Nick Ward is quickly establishing himself as an important cog in Melbourne Victory's quest for the Hyundai A-League premiership this season.

Skilful midfielder Nick Ward is quickly establishing himself as an important cog in Melbourne Victory's quest for the Hyundai A-League premiership this season.

In just his second start of the season, Ward displayed all of his abilities by heading home the only goal in Victory's 1-0 win over Adelaide United at Telstra Dome on Tuesday night.

The goal - Ward's second in the last three games - moved Victory back to the top of the Hyundai A-League ladder and puts them in an excellent position with just three games to go in the regular season.

After an injury-interrupted start to the campaign, Ward is now making his mark and Victory coach Ernie Merrick was full of praise for the 23-year-old.

"He came out of the Olympic campaign with a broken pre-season and preparation," Merrick revealed.

"He played for the Olympic team injured and he has battled to fight those injuries which he has probably carried for a year or so."

"But there is no one that has worked harder in the gym."

"He has just turned around his game to a reliable attacking one and he also defends so well."

"I think he is becoming a very good all-round player."

Ward has relished the opportunity that Merrick has offered him in the past month and now feels that he has cemented his spot in the starting XI.

"I have been working hard and just focusing on playing football," Ward said.

"Ernie has given me the opportunity to play and I relish it."

"One of my goals this season was to establish myself (in the starting XI) after the injury and I think I have done that."

Ward is sure to be part of Merrick's plans when Melbourne travels to Perth to tackle the Glory on Sunday in what looms as a crucial encounter for both clubs.

Perth is still an outside chance of making the finals, while Melbourne needs all the points it can get to keep itself at the top of the ladder.

Merrick has no fresh injury worries for the trip to Perth, but he knows that it will be an extremely difficult clash for his side.

"The key for us now is recovery and a big flight to Perth," Merrick said.

"The next three games are very important for us. We have got to keep playing well and we haven't played well in Perth this year so it is important we do well there."