Victory's uphill task getting steeper
Melbourne Victory's already uphill task of reaching the A-League finals has been made even steeper with injury, illness and forecast heat likely to make life difficult against Wellington on Friday night at Telstra Dome.
Needing a minor miracle to scrape through to the finals, the Victory could start the must-win game without captain Kevin Muscat, striker Danny Allsopp and midfielder Nick Ward.
Muscat suffered a corked thigh in a scratch match during the Socceroos training camp this week, while Ward is nursing a groin injury which reduced his game time in Sunday's win over Queensland.
And just when the Victory looked like scoring a bit more regularly after successive wins, Allsopp has been bed-ridden all week because of a virus.
To reach the finals, the sixth-placed Victory must win their last two games and hope the teams above them - the Newcastle Jets (fourth) and Adelaide United (fifth) - keep losing.
Coach Ernie Merrick has put Leandro Love, Steve Pantelidis and Evan Berger on standby as potential replacements, and admitted he was not optimistic about his key trio playing.
"It's not looking too good actually, so we'll leave the decision until tomorrow morning," he said.
Merrick said if anyone would recover in time it would be the determined Muscat, while the forecast hot temperatures would not assist Allsopp playing alongside Archie Thompson.
Ward's chronic groin problem looks like limiting his impact between now and March, when Melbourne kick off their Asian Champions League campaign.
"We haven't written him (Ward) off, he played in the game against the Mariners and was outstanding and for 20 minutes last week he was outstanding," Merrick said.
"And if we can use him again for even a short period of time we will because he's added a lot and has been a great signing.
"We'll certainly use him now to get some game time in him if we can, and then he'll have a good lead in for the ACL."
Merrick said the Victory had no choice but to accept their injury concerns, and was confident he had the squad depth to cover.
"It makes the job a little bit more difficult, but the thing is that everyone has had played apart from Evan, so it's not as if they're coming in completely cold," he said.
"These are the things you have to cope with in football.
"If we win the next two games all we can do is put pressure on other teams like Newcastle and Adelaide to get results, that's all we can do and they either get the points they need or they don't."
A temperature of 40 degrees has been forecast for Melbourne on Friday, although a cool change could arrive by the time the game starts at 8pm (AEDT).
Merrick expected the heat to be more of a factor for the seventh-placed Phoenix, although he conceded it could be sapping for his players after two games on the road.
"The heat will be a factor but it's more disadvantageous to us, I guess, it's a third game in 12 days," he said.