Merrick: Victory a finals certainty

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick has confidently predicted his team will make the Hyundai A-League finals despite its recent run of outs while star striker Archie Thompson is only a 50/50 chance of returning for Friday night's must-win trip to bottom side Newcastle.

Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick has confidently predicted his team will make the Hyundai A-League finals despite its recent run of outs while star striker Archie Thompson is only a 50/50 chance of returning for Friday night's must-win trip to bottom side Newcastle.

The Victory, who have led the competition for most of this season, suddenly find themselves under pressure ahead of a trip to a Newcastle side whose last win was against Melbourne way back in Round 8.

After not playing last weekend - due to the rescheduling of its home match against Adelaide until January 6 - Melbourne watched as Queensland joined them in equal second place on the ladder while fifth-placed Sydney is just three points further adrift although Melbourne does remain just a point off top spot and has a game in hand.

Melbourne also heads to Newcastle on the back of two successive losses to sixth-placed Wellington and seventh-placed Perth - both away from home - with this game being the last of a gruelling travel schedule in which the club will have played six of the past eight matches away from home.

But Merrick remains unconcerned at any hints of fragility about his team, confidently predicting on Thursday that with five matches to come out of six at home after Christmas his team was on track to play a major role in the finals come February.

"We are one point off the top of the league with a game in hand so we are in a good position and we are aiming for one of the top two spots," Merrick said.

When asked if he was looking over his shoulder given Melbourne sits inside the top four by just three points; Merrick replied: "I haven't worried about that."

"It's always going to be tight but we are going to be in the finals - that is not a concern," he said.

"With this squad we will make the finals and it's about getting the best out of the boys in the run home, in the lead-up to the finals and finishing in a top-two spot (to earn the double chance)."

Apart from the concerns over Thompson - a late withdrawal against Perth a fortnight ago due to knee soreness - Melbourne has a full squad to pick from with Evan Berger back from a hamstring injury and Costa Rican international Carlos Hernandez again ready to start after having been used as a substitute in recent matches following his long lay-off with a quad injury.

While Thompson trained strongly at Gosch's Paddock on Thursday, Merrick said he was reluctant to declare his marquee player a certain starter on Friday night given he was a last minute withdrawal against Perth.

"He has come up (fine) but then he came up last time as well so I am still leaning (towards) 50/50," Merrick said when asked about Thompson's availability on Thursday.

"I will wait and see how he feels after the trip and after the warm-up but (fellow striker Ney) Fabiano is ready to go and Fab and Dan (Allsopp) have been training the last two weeks together and doing really well and Carlos Hernandez has really well improved out of his sight with his fitness."

Merrick denied he was growing concerned at Thompson's on-going knee problems with the business end of the season fast approaching.

"It's not a bad injury at all," he said.

"It's a flare-up injury on the side of the knee, it happens every now and again and it's a pain issue but it's not getting any worse and we know how to treat it."