Hernandez still a wanted man

Last season's Johnny Warren Medallist Carlos Hernandez remains a wanted man at Melbourne Victory despite fitness concerns ruling him out of the first two matches of the AFC Champions League.

Last season's Johnny Warren Medallist Carlos Hernandez remains a wanted man at Melbourne Victory despite fitness concerns ruling him out of the first two matches of the AFC Champions League.

Hernandez didn't travel to Japan for Victory's 5-1 humiliation by Gamba Osaka last week and is not expected to be fit enough to be available for the match against Jeju United in Melbourne next Tuesday.

But despite growing rumours of a split between player and club over Hernandez's commitment to a more professional approach to his preparation, Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick is adamant the Costa Rican will remain with the club for the coming season and said he will benefit from a longer off-season this year.

"He's too good a player to let go," Merrick said. "Carlos is signed for another year. He's always had a problem with completing pre-season, usually due to commitments with the Costa Rican national team. Given this will be a good long pre-season with the league starting in October, it will be ideal to prepare a team physically and strategically."

Hernandez, whose fitness woes began with a calf injury, is expected to play some part in the ACL campaign, but that isn-t likely to be until at least the away trip to Tianjin Teda on April 5.

"It's just a fitness thing with Carlos. He's been doing heaps of extra training, he'll do extra running. Again, he's come off an injury with calf which has prevented him from running," Merrick said.

"You can only so do much work in the gym, and he's got to do running and that's what we'll make him do. I don-t know where he's at."

Merrick again endorsed Hernandez's compatriot Marvin Angulo to continue to fill the attacking midfield role.

"Because Marvin has been playing that attacking midfield role so well, we-ve hadn-t had to worry about it," he said.

Meanwhile, Merrick conceded that Victory were competing for second in their ACL group after a performance against Gamba Osaka which he said featured no positives.

"Gamba Osaka are a terrific team with a huge budget and high quality players, it was almost like a different level. They are looking good now to finish top of the group. There aren-t many teams who are going top go to Gamba Osaka and take three points," he said.

"I feel as though as we lost a point, not three points."

Merrick said he will persist with three strikers against Jeju United, despite that set-up failing in Osaka.

"If our three strikers get service, we've shown that we'll score goals. (In Osaka) There's been a number of opportunities we've had to score goals and we didn-t put them away. I will play three strikers," he said.