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Ernie Merrick seeks some midfield magic

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 09/12/2013
Louis Fenton and Steven McGarry
Getty Images
CHASE ON FOOT: Phoenix midfielder Louis Fenton chases down the Glory's Steven McGarry during their A-League match in Perth.

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Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick will try to sign a goalscoring midfielder during the January transfer window after watching his winless side stumble to a 4-2 loss to the Glory in Perth.

Friday's match was the Phoenix's worst performance of the A-League season and after eight games they remain ninth with four draws and four losses.

Despite their struggles, Merrick continues to be bullish in his belief that the rebuilding club will qualify for the top-six finals.

But he will look to bolster his midfield after the Phoenix were over-run in the second half at nib Stadium. "It was the one game we played very badly, there was no excuse for it," Merrick said.

"There's going to be no glossing over anything, we didn't play well, we didn't keep possession ... I'm looking for a player that can attack and defend, and really has high level endurance, that can make crucial tackles at one end of the pitch and at the other end score goals. So I'm looking for the ideal, box to box type midfielder. But he's got to be a pretty creative all-round player and he's got to have pace."

Merrick joked that Barcelona stars Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta both fit the bill, but ruled out a more realistic play for All White Chris James. "Chris James is a good player, did a terrific job against Mexico but he's not the type of player that I'm looking for."

Merrick said he would scour the Asian leagues and the New Zealand national league for potential recruits. The target will have to be an Australian or Kiwi, with all five import spots already filled.

Young fullbacks Louis Fenton, in particular, and Reece Caira had a torrid night in Western Australia.

Manny Muscat will return to the starting XI for Saturday's home game against league leaders Brisbane Roar, but Merrick is unsure whether it will be as a fullback or a defensive midfielder.

He said inconsistency was to be expected from Fenton and Caira.

"I don't think either of our fullbacks had very good games but I think that's indicative of their experience and age. I just think it's unrealistic for either of those boys to be expected to be top-level players, and regular, consistent performers, week in, week out. It's two steps forward, one step back."

Carlos Hernandez [quad], Paul Ifill [groin] and Albert Riera [abdominal] are all under an injury cloud and will be assessed further today.

While disappointed to throw away a 2-1 lead against the Glory, Merrick, a two-time A-League winner with Melbourne Victory, remains adamant the Phoenix will qualify for the finals.

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What gives him such confidence?

"Because I think we've got a good squad of players that have been playing very good football. And out of all the games we've played, that's the one game we didn't deserve to get anything out of. Every other game we certainly haven't been overwhelmed."

Brisbane stretched their competition lead to five points with a 2-1 victory over Adelaide United.

Outstanding Albanian striker Besart Berisha - who scored against the Phoenix in round one - bagged both Roar goals.

Second-placed Western Sydney were held to a surprise 1-1 draw at home to last-placed Melbourne Heart, who trail the Phoenix on goal difference only.

Defending champions Central Coast got their campaign back on track with a 1-0 win over Sydney FC.

- The Dominion Post

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