Phoenix deliver another A-League draw
While their attack failed to find the net, it's the Wellington Phoenix midfield that coach Ernie Merrick insists he needs to get right most.
In their third match of their 2013-14 A-League campaign, the Phoenix struggled to a 0-0 draw against the Newcastle Jets at McLean Park in Napier tonight.
That left the two clubs in the bottom half of the table, each with two points, and seeking a dose of inspiration to spark better things offensively. The Jets are yet to score this season.
However, Merrick believes it's the balance of his midfield that requires further tinkering to provide his strike force with the ammunition required to net more than the two goals they have managed in 270 minutes to date.
The hosts were second-best for most of the first spell, with some sloppy passing in their own half.
"It was a very disappointing first half. It was almost a carbon copy of the week before against Wanderers," Merrick said.
"We were slow out of the blocks and struggled to hold possession and kept playing a lot of square balls and when we lost them they threatened our goal.
"If it hadn't have been for our two centre backs Ben [Sigmund] and Andrew [Durante] and Glen Moss in goal we would have been behind. They were rock-solid.
"You can't play for just 45 minutes each week."
As he promised pre-match, Merrick went with an attacking line-up in front of a crowd of 9020 while giving Paul Ifill his first start of the season ahead of Kenny Cunningham.
The home side began with effectively a 4-2-3-1 formation, but with plenty of interchanging movement between the attacking quartet of Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems, Ifill and Carlos Hernandez.
But there were mostly just goalscoring chances from set pieces to account for before Merrick - as he did last weekend in the 1-1 away draw against Western Sydney Wanderers - made a change to his set-up.
This one came a little later, during the halftime break, when he removed Ifill in favour of defensive midfielder Albert Riera.
"It was a strategic switch. I needed another midfielder," Merrick said.
"I can't seem to play with that many strikers in this team. I think I've learned that lesson now, but if you don't push forward for a win, I don't know how you progress in this league.
"Defensively in midfield we were good, but it's the transition between midfield and the strikers. Having said that, we still hit the framework three times."
The toothless Jets came close on occasions, but Moss, Sigmund and Durante were dominant figures at the back, giving Merrick something pleasing to work from.
"We don't concede many goals and that's your framework."
While Hernandez was well marshalled in general play by Ben Kantarovski, he was still the home team's most dangerous creative player.
He came agonisingly close to giving the Phoenix a rare early lead when he collected a quick throw-in, skipped infield past a defender and fired a half-volley against the crossbar with Jets goalkeeper Mark Brighitti beaten in the sixth minute.
Opposing skipper Ruben Zadkovich hit the crossbar from a free-kick soon after, meaning Moss then had to block Scott Neville's shot from the rebound before Leo Bertos cleared Neville's second attempt off the goal line.
The first half ended with the Phoenix setting siege to the Jets goal. Brighitti saved a point-blank far post header from Huysegems following a Hernandez cross and then could only watch as Huysegems' flick of another teasing delivery from Hernadez skidded narrowly wide.
Another tantalising Hernandez set-piece delivery in the 62nd minute saw Durante draw an acrobatic save from Brighitti. Before the danger was cleared, Hernandez scuffed a shot onto the near post after Brighitti came for a cross he never collected.
Misplaced passes dominated the dying stages, leaving a goal-less stalemate providing more joy for the visitors than the Phoenix.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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