Merrick praises Tommy

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick paid tribute to Tom Pondeljak describing him as quickly having become a vital part of the Hyundai A-League's leading side after the veteran midfielder came back to haunt his former club on Friday night.

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick paid tribute to Tom Pondeljak describing him as quickly having become a vital part of the Hyundai A-League's leading side after the veteran midfielder came back to haunt his former club on Friday night.

The 32-year-old scored his first goal for his new club and ironically it came against his former club Central Coast as the Victory came from behind to beat the Mariners 2-1 at Telstra Dome.

The win opened up a six point break for the Victory at the top of the table, a luxurious position for a club that finishes the season with five of its last six matches at home after Christmas.

The Mariners, who came into the game not having lost on the road all season, took the lead in the 33rd minute before Pondeljak unleashed an unstoppable volley minutes later to level the scores following a fine one-two move with Archie Thompson.

And while Thompson went on to score the winner in the second half - his eighth goal in ten matches against the Mariners - it was Pondeljak's performance that caught Merrick's eye.

"I thought Tommy was man of the match," Merrick said.

"His workrate, his goal plus his attacking and he was defending and he has just become a major part of our side."

Pondeljak, who scored seven times in 55 appearances for the Mariners over the past three seasons before moving to Melbourne this season, was more relieved to have scored his first goal for his new club rather than having come back to haunt his former club.

"That often seems to the case with most players, they score against their former club, but look I was just happy to get on the scoresheet and play my part in the game," he said.

Merrick was proud of the way his side bounced back after the Mariners took the lead when John Hutchison's seemingly harmless free-kick eluded everybody in the 33rd minute.

"It was a nothing sort of free kick that went straight in at the back post but it was good to see the boys fight back from there towards the end of the first half," he said.

The Victory also withstood a physical barrage from the Mariners, who at one stage forced five successive corners late in the first half.

But Merrick said the team had been desperate to reward its large home following with a win after a 2-0 loss to Sydney in their most recent home match.

"It was vital to win because this was our last home game for five weeks and for our fans we wanted to erase the memory of that Sydney game."

Central Coast manager Lawrie McKinna was left to bemoan his team's costly lapse in concentration late in the first half, which allowed Pondeljak to equalise at a time when the Mariners were on top.

"Melbourne put us under a bit of pressure early but we weathered the storm and went 1-0 up and felt quite comfortable," he said.

"But after scoring, just five minutes later we gave them a chance to get back in the match - a slack pass and the goal came from our mistake."

"Going in at half-time at 1-1, we felt we deserved to be in the lead but then in the second half they pressured us a bit better and we didn-t keep possession as well as we did in the first half and when they scored again we were always chasing the game after that."