Muscat spices up Victory

Coach Ernie Merrick has credited the return of inspirational skipper Kevin Muscat as the catalyst for Melbourne's ability to turn the tables on Sydney and take a 2-1 lead out of the first leg of the major semi-final at Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

Coach Ernie Merrick has credited the return of inspirational skipper Kevin Muscat as the catalyst for Melbourne's ability to turn the tables on Sydney and take a 2-1 lead out of the first leg of the major semi-final at Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

Melbourne conceded the Premiers' Plate with a 2-0 loss to Sydney just four days prior to their clash but the defending champions hit back with a vengeance with an inspired performance to take a throttlehold of the tie against the Sky Blues.

Merrick credited Muscat for lifting the team, which went into the match without three first-choice players, Archie Thompson, Matthew Kemp and Robbie Kruse, all of whom are injured.

"He's a huge influence. Adrian (Leijer) and Rody (Vargas) game seems to lift when he's around. They-re more confident of attacking the ball in front, because they know that Kevin reads the play well. If they hadn't judged it right he's there," Merrick said.

Muscat's influence on the match was more than just in the defensive half of the park. He set up Nik Mrdja's first goal on 16 minutes with a magnificent long pass, while many of the Victory's forward thrusts were started by the veteran defender.

"It was a good win, but I thought we deserved it. More on our first half performance, I thought we really created some quality football in the first half. Kevin was a huge addition, his passing out of the backline was first class," Merrick said.

Muscat returned to the starting line-up after a two-week suspension. He admitted that a two-week break on the eve of the finals and the Asian Champions League could prove a blessing in disguise.

"Adam Basil the conditioning coach, took into account the run of games we've got and my training has been managed accordingly. It wasn't just about being fit and prepared tonight, it was about getting fit for the next three months," Muscat said.

Forever looking for different motivations to take into contests like the one against Sydney, Muscat said the fact that Melbourne had failed to break Sydney's defence this season acted as a spur for the team.

"I think it's probably your job to pick up the negatives that we haven't scored against Sydney, and that's a fact, so you write about it. But tonight we performed so well and we created a number of chances, we really got a hop on them early. The only thing I'm disappointed with is that we conceded a soft goal," he said.

"We'll go into the next tie with a lot of confidence after that. We can stop reading about our inability to score against them."

While Sydney's goal may have irked Muscat, who played a major part in deflecting it into the net, Merrick is not concerned about the away goal, saying his side would play attacking football in the second leg.

"We showed we can shut up the shop as good as anyone, we just don't play that style of football week in, week out or we wouldn't have a crowd," he said of Thursday's performance.

"The away goal doesn't bother me at all. It's about winning games and we'll go up to Sydney to win the game. I'm convinced we'll score at least one up there which will negate theirs. It's not a problem for me."

"We went out there and we attacked and that's what we'll do. They can start worrying about goals at home."