Pondeljak back, Brebner maybe

Grand final hero Tom Pondeljak will make his return to Melbourne Victory's side for Sunday's clash with Newcastle at EnergyAustralia Stadium, while coach Ernie Merrick is considering also bringing Grant Brebner back into the starting-line-up.

Grand final hero Tom Pondeljak will make his return to Melbourne Victory's side for Sunday's clash with Newcastle at EnergyAustralia Stadium, while coach Ernie Merrick is considering also bringing Grant Brebner back into the starting-line-up.

Pondeljak, who scored the only goal of last year's epic 1-0 Grand Final win over Adelaide, came off the bench in last week's 3-0 loss to Sydney after missing the previous game with a back injury. With Robbie Kruse sidelined for up to three weeks with a hamstring injury, Pondeljak moves back into the XI in a boost for the visitors.

"Tommy's been outstanding for us since he's joined. He's back full fitness, 100 percent," Merrick said on Friday. "He not only creates opportunities and scores goals up front, he's a huge asset because he's prepared to come and help the midfield as well. Our GPS shows he's one of the hardest working players in the team."

Pondeljak is happy to be back in the XI, but says the loss of Kruse cannot be under-estimated.

"It's good to be back in the starting XI, with the injury to Robbie, which has been unfortunate, he's done quite well when he's been playing. It's an opportunity for me to get back in there and continue what our strikers have been doing, and that's creating chances."

Pondeljak hasn't started a game since the 2-0 win over Adelaide in Round 7, when he and Nick Ward were pushed forward into more advanced roles and Melbourne produced arguably its best performance of the season.

Injuries have made it difficult for Melbourne to get a consistent side out on the park this season, and only once have the Victory fielded the same XI in successive weeks. While Merrick is reticent to change things after last week's defeat, he intimated Brebner could be set for a recall into the midfield.

"We are trying to get a consistent team and a bit of continuity. The boys are playing well and pulling together. That was our first loss in six matches (against Sydney). But there's always room for improvement and if players are a little bit flat and they need a rest, then a fresh player needs to come in," he said.

"Brebs had an outstanding half when he came on the pitch. He's done the right thing to ask for a first XI position."

Merrick admitted Melbourne needed more vision in the middle of the park, especially after losing Billy Celeski for the season with a knee injury. He said Brebner showed when he came on the second half against Sydney that he could offer those qualities.

While attacking midfielder Carlos Hernandez barely played a part on Friday's training session, Merrick said that was just part of managing the Costa Rican's fitness and that he wasn't in any doubt.

"This is Friday morning Carlos as usual. He's usually got a bagel and cup of tea and cuddles everyone. We have individual programs for everyone feeling extra tight in the last session, so we usually have a light session. But he worked pretty hard with our strength guy, we just kept him out of the session so he's got no excuses. He's ready to go," he said.

Merrick said Hernandez, who missed the 1-1 draw with Newcastle in Round 5 this season because of international commitments, was the best he has been since joining the club two years ago.

"Carlos is playing his best football for us, he's been outstanding. He's turning up week-in, week-out, he's playing for 90 minutes. We are really happy with him," Merrick said.

Merrick also confirmed that Evan Berger would miss the trip to Newcastle after picking up a knock at training. That means that two of Nathan Elasi, Matthew Foschini and Mate Dugandzic will be included on the bench.