Ward the wildcard

Could Nick Ward be Melbourne's wildcard in the Victory's bid to reclaim the Hyundai A-League championship?

Could Nick Ward be Melbourne's wildcard in the Victory's bid to reclaim the Hyundai A-League championship?

Just over twelve months ago, Melbourne signed Ward from English championship club QPR as a box-to-box midfielder who would energise their midfield, but it's not until the past three games where Victory have really got what they wanted out of the 23-year-old.

The goal Ward scored against Sydney on December 27 could prove a significant turning point for both club and player. His form as a substitute in that game and in the following match against Queensland was compelling enough for him to earn just his second start for the season on Tuesday against Adelaide.

Ward, who admitted he had been frustrated by his inability to break into the starting XI, put his best foot forward in that match providing plenty of pace and verve in the middle of the park. He then stepped up to head home the winner on the 58th minute, capping possibly his best performance in a Victory shirt.

Coach Ernie Merrick said Ward has worked extremely hard for his opportunity and is now starting to get the rewards.

"He came out of the Olympic campaign with a broken pre-season and preparation," Merrick said. "He played for the Olympic team injured and he has battled to fight those injuries which he has probably carried for a year or so."

"But there is no one that has worked harder in the gym. He has just turned around his game to a reliable attacking one and he also defends so well."

"I think he is becoming a very good all-round player."

For Ward, it is all about taking his chances when they come.

"Ernie has given me the opportunity to play and I relish it," he said. "One of my goals this season was to establish myself (in the starting XI) after the injury and I think I have done that."

Versatility will only help Ward's cause for permanent spot in the midfield alongside Carlos Hernandez, Tom Pondeljak and Billy Celeski. He proved on Tuesday that he is an excellent foil for Hernandez, and enjoys the space created when the dynamic Costa Rican is playing at his best.

"They like to pick up Carlos a lot and he pulls them away and I can drift," Ward said.

While 2008 proved a disappointing year for the talented midfielder, if the first couple of weeks of this year are any guide, things are looking up in 2009. First on the agenda is securing Hyundai A-League silverware in the next six weeks.