Merrick calls on Ricardinho to lift
Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick is hoping for an improved work-rate from Brazilian import Ricardinho in Wednesday's away clash with the Wellington Phoenix.
Robbie Kruse, with 10 goals in the A-League this season, is unavailable for the Victory because of the Socceroos' Asian Cup campaign in Qatar.
However, re-signed striker Danny Allsopp is set to play his first game in more than 12 months for the club after finalising his international clearance from the US league.
Allsopp is likely to start on the bench with Merrick putting the heat on Ricardinho to work harder.
Ricardinho struggled before Christmas, playing nine straight games and scoring only once, then missing six games with a knee injury.
The Brazilian came off the bench in the 71st minute last Friday in Gosford as the fifth-placed Victory scored late twice to win 2-1 against the Mariners.
"We've put him through the mill fitness-wise, training-wise," Merrick said on Tuesday in a teleconference from Wellington.
"We want workers in our team and he's learning to share the load and win the ball back."
Victory skipper Kevin Muscat is being rested for the game against the seventh-placed Phoenix.
However, Merrick said the defensive hard man would return for Sunday's home game at AAMI Park against second-placed Adelaide United.
"We have to be responsible for a 37-year-old," Merrick said.
"His body is in great shape but we don't want to push it.
"There's no way he could play three games in just over a week, including a return flight to Wellington as well.
"He's back training in Melbourne."
Adrian Leijer is the captain in Muscat's absence against the fired-up Phoenix in what Merrick admits is a "double-points" game with both sides in finals contention.
The Victory are on a four-game winning streak.
"This will be a tough game for us. We're not going to change to a defensive and counter-attacking style," Merrick said.
"That's not going to win finals for us."
Merrick played down talk the Phoenix would go overboard in their physical style of play.
"Spiteful clashes, I don't believe that. It's more tough, hard football," Merrick said.
"Whoever wins, it's a major victory for them.
"We're not here for a draw."
Merrick said the goals scored by substitute Diogo Ferreria and midfielder Grant Brebner at Gosford last Friday showed the Victory were building momentum.
"That sort of momentum builds confidence. I've been encouraging some players to get forward, not just the frontline attack," he said.
Merrick said Evan Berger and Matthew Kemp were vying for the starting left-back spot following Kemp's recovery from a groin strain.
Coach Ricki Herbert's Phoenix are in good form with a 4-0 win over Newcastle and a 1-1 draw against North Queensland in their past two matches.
"Victory are a great side and they're coming on strong now just like we are," Phoenix striker Dylan Macallister said.
Herbert will be celebrating his 100th game coaching an A-League side, including five matches as mentor for the New Zealand Knights.