Preview: North Queensland v Melbourne Victory

Melbourne makes its second trip against to Townsville this season, knowing the pressure is on to maintain top spot on the table with Sydney challenging strongly.

Date: Sunday December 27 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST, 9:00pm AEDT Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium

Head-to-head 1 A-League meeting: Wins: Melbourne 1

Previous Meeting North Queensland Fury 0, Melbourne Victory 1, August 2009

Past five matches: North Queensland Fury: Round 16: North Queensland Fury 2, Adelaide United 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 17: Sydney FC 4, North Queensland Fury 1, Sydney Football Round 18: North Queensland Fury 1, Perth Glory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 19: Brisbane Roar 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 20: Newcastle Jets 3, North Queensland Fury 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium

Melbourne Victory: Round 15: Brisbane Roar 0, Melbourne Victory 1, Suncorp Stadium Round 16: Melbourne Victory 4, Gold Coast United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 17: Wellington Phoenix 1, Melbourne Victory 1, Westpac Stadium Round 18: Central Coast Mariners 0, Melbourne Victory 3, Bluetongue Stadium Round 20: Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium

Analysis: Melbourne makes its second trip against to Townsville this season, knowing the pressure is on to maintain top spot on the table with Sydney challenging strongly. North Queensland returns home after back-to-back road losses against Brisbane and Newcastle looking to get off the foot of the table.

The Fury have won their past two matches at Dairy Farmers Stadium, defeating Adelaide and Perth. One of the key aspects of Ian Ferguson's plans for success in his opening season was to establish Townsville as a fortress for his team and he gets the chance to test that out further against the competition's best away team.

One of the positives to come out of the Fury's most recent defeat against the Jets was the performance of Dyron Daal. The fledgling club has been criticised for an over-reliance on Robbie Fowler, but Daal's double shows their attack has more than one string to its bow, especially when you consider that Daniel McBreen has also been more than useful.

But the goals tend to come too late for the Fury, who have too often found themselves trailing early on in games. Only two of their 22 goals this season have come in the opening 30 minutes of the game and only three of their past 15 have been scored in the first half. But every time in the past 15 games they have scored first, they have won. Leaking goals - 37 in all this season - has also been a major issue, especially away from home.

Ferguson has reacted with Jacob Timpano, Beau Busch, Fred Agius, John Tambouras and Karl Dodd all omitted and youngsters Jack Hingert and Osama Mailk included.

Melbourne's form on the road has been nothing short of amazing this season with seven wins and a draw from nine matches. The key has been the Victory's defence, conceding just seven goals while scoring 17.

The defence has also been key to the recent strong run of form which sees the ladder leaders unbeaten in five and having conceded just one goal in 450 minutes of football. Goalkeeper Mitch Langerak's return to the line-up has coincided with that period, while Adrian Leijer has been at his best as well, anchoring the back four.

But while things are looking very strong at the back, the midfield is going through a personnel crisis with Carlos Hernandez the latest player to succumb to an injury curse which has afflicted almost every member of the Melbourne midfield this year.

Hernandez is unlikely to make the trip north, while Leigh Broxham is suspended and will miss out. Sutee Suksomkit, who will be playing his last match for the club, is the man most likely to replace Hernandez while coach Ernie Merrick has plenty to consider in the defensive midfield role left vacant by Broxham.

Youngster Matthew Foschini is in line for a promotion and could fit in there, while Merrick has also included youth league players Aziz Behich, Diogo Ferreira, Luke Pilkington, Mate Dugandzic and Mathew Theodore. Grant Brebner is also back in after missing four weeks with an ankle injury, but is unlikely to start.

Overall, Melbourne has lost just two of their past 15 matches and on the strength of that record you would think they would have North Queensland's measure in this match. However, the humid conditions in Townsville and the good recent home form from the Fury could make this one of the tougher road trips for the year for Melbourne.

North Queensland Fury squad: 1.Paul HENDERSON (GK), 2.Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE, 7.Jason SPAGNUOLO, 9.Robbie FOWLER (c), 10.Jeremy BROCKIE, 12.Jack HINGERT,14.Chris GROSSMAN, 16. Paul KOHLER, 17. Osama MALIK, 19.Daniel MCBREEN, 20. Justin PASFIELD (GK), 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 24 Dyron DAAL, 25 Grant SMITH, 26 Matt SMITH, 27 Terry COOKE *two to be omitted*

In: Jack HINGERT (promoted), Osama MALIK (promoted)

Out: 5. Jacob TIMPANO 13. Beau BUSCH, 15. Fred AGIUS, 21. John TAMBOURAS, 22. Karl DODD

Unavailable: 8. Shane STEFANUTTO (knee - indefinite), 4.Scott WILSON (knee - indefinite), 18. James ROBINSON (knee- indefinite) 6. Ufuk TALAY (calf: 4-6 weeks) 11. David WILLIAMS (hamstring 4-6 weeks)

Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 18.Mathew THEODORE, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 24.Aziz BEHICH, 25.Luke PILKINGTON, 27.Sutee SUKSOMKIT, 28.Diogo FERREIRA *five to be omitted*

In: Aziz BEHICH (promoted from NYL), Grant BREBNER (return from injury), Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Diogo FERREIRA (promoted from NYL), Luke PILKINGTON (promoted from NYL), Mathew THEODORE (promoted)

Out: Leigh BROXHAM (suspended, 1 week)

Unavailable: Marvin ANGULO (pending registration), Evan BERGER (hamstring, 2 weeks), Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Surat SUKHA (hamstring, 4 weeks)