Ward out, Pondeljak in doubt

Melbourne's brutal run with injuries has continued with the Victory set to go into Saturday night's clash with Gold Coast without Nick Ward, while Tom Pondeljak is a major doubt.

Melbourne's brutal run with injuries has continued with the Victory set to go into Saturday night's clash with Gold Coast without Nick Ward, while Tom Pondeljak is a major doubt.

Coach Ernie Merrick has struggled to get the same side out on the park from week to week and just when things started looking up for the defending champions, with Ward and Pondeljak playing major roles in attack in Melbourne's 2-0 win over Adelaide last week, they could be without both of them for the trip north to Skilled Park.

Ward has spent a couple of days in hospital with what the club says is a muscle infection, while a back injury could prevent Pondeljak from taking his spot.

"We're not sure about Tommy yet, he's got a back injury," Merrick said. "Wardy will definitely be out, he's has an infection and it's bad enough for him to be in hospital for a couple of days. He's currently in there having a couple of tests."

Merrick also has a few concerns over his back-up plans in attack as well, with new recruit Robbie Kruse struggling with a groin injury and Archie Thompson only participating in part of Thursday's training session.

"Archie was just a light session, he'll be fine. Robbie Kruse has a bit of a groin strain, we're not sure about him," Merrick said.

"It's one of those seasons. I'm confident we've got good quality players coming in and I think our depth is very good."

Despite Merrick's faith in the depth of his team it is clear that if neither of Ward, Pondeljak or Kruse are available, then he will have to alter from a three-man attacking formation. But he says that it's not the personnel, but the approach to the task which will determine the result of the match.

"There are a variety of players that we've got in the squad. I can't give you the shape of the team until we know where we are at," he said. "We just have to approach this game the way we did last week, it was 90 minutes of consistent effort."

"The good thing is there are a range of players getting a good run and getting some experience in there. I think we've got the squad to do well up there."

Gold Coast will also be without a couple of players, including star striker Shane Smeltz who is suspended. But Merrick's defensive plans have not been altered by the absence of the A-League's leading marksman.

"It's that stage of the year where everyone has either got national team duties, injuries or suspension," he said. "We're more focussed on our own team than Gold Coast. I think it is a major blow for them not to have Smeltz. You lose players and you gain players," he said.

"They've had such a good start to the year but they're discovering what it's like when you lose a Joel Porter or a Shane Smeltz, and that's when you rely on the depth of your squad."