Sydney blitz still lingers

The memory of Sydney FC putting two goals past Melbourne inside the first three minutes in a game last season is still in Ernie Merrick's mind as he prepares for Friday's night blockbuster at Etihad Stadium.

The memory of Sydney FC putting two goals past Melbourne inside the first three minutes in a game last season is still in Ernie Merrick's mind as he prepares for Friday's night blockbuster at Etihad Stadium.

While Melbourne was able to reel back that early deficit and record a memorable 3-2 win in that match last December, Victory coach Merrick knows that given the strength of Sydney's defence this season, his team can ill-afford a similarly slow start in the U-NITE clash between the two teams at the top of the table.

"It was a key game last year. We were top of the league, slipping down, we'd lost three games on the road and played Sydney at home and before we knew it, we were two goals down. We beat them 3-2 and it's all about what the score is in the 90th minute. But we wouldn't want to concede too many goals early on to a team like Sydney," Merrick said.

Nearly 10 months has passed since that match, which history will record as a significant turning point in the season for both teams, and Sydney is a much different side.

Coach Vitezslav Lavicka has overseen a transformation in the style of play which has produced a more consistent Sky Blues outfit, which has been able to win five of its first nine games to sit top of the table.

Melbourne boasts a very strong record against Sydney having lost just one of its past nine against its northern rival. It's not something that gives Merrick a lot of comfort, however, as he knows that Sydney in season five is a different proposition.

"Defensively they've done really well, perhaps not scored as many goals but they are scoring goals and they are solid defensively," he said.

Sydney may boast the second-best defence in the league in terms of goals conceded, but Merrick is wary of the visitors at both ends of the park.

"They are playing good football, their coach has got them well-structured and well-organised, they've got (Alex) Brosque up front with (Mark) Bridge, (John) Aloisi might be on the bench, (Steve) Corica's always there, so we've got a lot respect for Sydney," he said.

"They play open football, and that's a key to an exciting game, and end to end stuff, very attacking football. We have respect for them, but we are going to give it everything to take all three points."

Merrick said he is not making any special plans for striker John Aloisi, Sydney's marquee man, despite the likelihood he will make a return from a knee injury after a two-week layoff. He'd rather focus on the positives in his own selection.

"Knowing the depth they have got, we know it's going to be a tough game, whether he plays or not. Obviously if he comes on the bench for them, that's a bit of a plus for them, but a plus for us is we've got Carlos Hernandez, and he's not off playing for Costa Rica, which is terrific for us," he said.