The Wellington Phoenix had a new coach, but not enough players to field a football team as the Ernie Merrick era opened at Newtown Park today.
The former Melbourne Victory coach oversaw the Phoenix's first pre-season field session after two days of fitness testing.
Having released five players, including Tony Lochhead, on Sunday, Merrick is left with a lean squad as he attempts to re-energise last season's wooden spooners.
There are 15 players on the books but Carlos Hernandez is holidaying on a beach in Costa Rica after his season in India, Jeremy Brockie is on loan at Toronto FC, Louis Fenton and Tyler Boyd are preparing for the under-20 World Cup in Turkey and Michael Boxall is playing in the Victorian Premier League.
With the A-League not kicking off till October 13, Merrick was relaxed about the lack of personnel and was impressed with the players' attitude.
''The boys here actually look pretty fit for day one of pre-season, and it's going to be a long pre-season,'' Merrick said.
''They're a bunch of lads that want to achieve something. They're really keen to be coached, they've got an open mind and I think once we set targets and goals, they'll be the sort of team that will be an absolute pleasure to progress with.''
Uncontracted duo Luke Rowe and Ian Hogg will both have opportunities to impress Merrick and make a play for Lochhead's left back slot.
Rowe trained today but Hogg is recovering from an ankle injury sustained in New Zealand A's 1-0 loss to Jordan last week.
Recruitment-wise Merrick said the two ''crucial'' positions to fill were another striker and midfielder and he would cast the net far and wide.
Hernandez, a former league MVP, is scheduled to arrive next Wednesday.
Phoenix captain Andrew Durante said Merrick's presence was refreshing.
''He's got new philosophies, it's exciting having a new face around, a new voice, new ideas,'' Durante said.
''He's a coach that wants to be really attacking... it's a new brand of football, it seems like he always wants the ball moving, pass and move has already been the centre of attention at training today.''
Merrick said the players had reported in good physical shape.
''So I think that shows how keen we are to kind of redeem ourselves for last year,'' Durante said.
''It was a really disappointing year, I don't really want to dwell too much on last season. We want to look forward and Ernie is the man to take us forward.''
- The Dominion Post
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