Preview: Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix

Wellington come in to this match with plenty of confidence having won back-to-back matches, but it is important to remember both of those were across the Tasman, where they always play their best football.

Date: Sunday December 18 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEDT, 7.00pm NZDT Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Head-to-head Played 13: Wins: Melbourne Victory 5, Wellington Phoenix 2, Draws: 6

Previous encounter Wellington Phoenix 1, Melbourne Victory 2, Westpac Stadium, October 2011

History: Melbourne won the only match between these two teams this season 2-1 in late October. It was Victory's first win over Phoenix in over a season, with two draws and a win to the Phoenix in their clashes in 2010-11. The Phoenix then chalked up their first win over Victory in two years with a 2-0 home success in January.

Form: Past five matches: Melbourne: DDWLD Wellington Phoenix: DWLWW

Summary of form: Victory remain trapped in an early-season funk which has seen them secure just two wins in their first 10 games. That is well short of the lofty expectation set of them before the season started and there is a bit of a panic about their form. They remain the draw kings, with six of 10 matches ending in stalemates, including last week's clash against Adelaide.

Wellington have powered up the table courtesy of back-to-back wins, the first time they have done that since the end of the 2009-10 season. They now find themselves in fourth and just five points off the top of the table.

Their two wins in the past week both came at home, against Perth in Wellington and then their biggest scalp, Brisbane Roar in Dunedin. That was their first win over the Roar in almost two years.

Match Committee: Rody Vargas is eligible this week having served a two-match ban, leaving Melbourne with basically a full squad to choose from apart from Matthew Kemp, who is struggling with an undisclosed problem, and Tando Velaphi, who is a couple of weeks from resuming keeping duties after suffering a leg fracture on the eve of the season.

Wellington talisman Paul Ifill is struggling with a groin injury and may not back up for this match after scoring one and setting up another against the Roar. Dani Sanchez should be available, but Tony Lochhead and Jimmy Downey won't return from injury. Mirjan Pavlovic is available after suspension.

Danger men: Archie Thompson - Thompson continues to carry Victory this season, scoring his fourth goal last week, a rare one with his head. He is in some of the best form of recent years and while there are others who continue to generate more headlines, he is the most important player for Melbourne.

Ben Sigmund - Sigmund doesn't get a great deal of credit, but the South Islander has proven to be one of the Phoenix's most consistent players this season. His robust approach to his role may have got him sent off the last time these two played, but that was a rare error of judgement. Wellington have conceded just four in their past six, including clean sheets in their past two.

At the end of the day ... Wellington come in to this match with plenty of confidence having won back-to-back matches, but it is important to remember both of those were across the Tasman, where they always play their best football.

Ricki Herbert's greatest concern continues to be his side's inability to win on the road and they come to Melbourne knowing that they have never gained three points from an away match against the Victory before.

The likely loss of Ifill, who has played just seven matches this season, is a major concern and he underlined his value with his excellent performance in Dunedin on Wednesday night.

It looms as a game of opportunity for the Victory, who played well to knock off the Phoenix at the Cake Tin in October. They need a confidence booster and get Phoenix softened up by two matches in a week and a trip from Dunedin.

They continued to show brief passages of play against Adelaide last week where they looked like the side they can be, but lapses, in both defence and midfield, cost them late as did profligacy.

A lot has been made of Harry Kewell's failure to score, but his form has improved greatly in the past couple of weeks and he is more consistent than Carlos Hernandez, who tends to disappear during games.

The time for excuses is over for Victory. They have a full squad who have had three months to integrate and it's time to deliver.

The Phoenix will be glad to get a draw out of this one, but that might prove too much of an ask after such a busy week.

Teams:

TBC