Watching from afar, you started to wonder when the Wellington Phoenix would win a game this A-League season.
Throw in the utterly forgettable All Whites' World Cup qualifying campaign and it was a grim few weeks for New Zealand's flagship football teams.
Few Phoenix or All Whites players are more prone to wearing their heart on their sleeve than defender Ben Sigmund. If he's cranky it shows, but he insists his club's 10-game winless streak never got him down, nor did he lose faith in coach Ernie Merrick or doubt the former Melbourne Victory boss' methods.
Plenty of punters were quick to doubt Merrick, and his positive spins on the Phoenix's latest loss – just not the blokes in the dressing room.
"Each week Ernie came in and tweaked little things that we needed to improve on and work on and slowly but surely it's come together, and now we look like a team that's hard to beat and scoring goals," Sigmund said of tomorrow's clash with the Victory at Westpac Stadium.
Wins over Melbourne Heart, Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers helped improve the public's perception of the team, while last Sunday's draw with the Central Coast Mariners was further evidence that the Phoenix might be the playoff team Merrick's always touted them as.
It takes a special kind of coach to keep building belief within a losing dressing room and Sigmund says that's exactly what Merrick is.
"One hundred per cent, yeah. He's been our saviour, really, with the way he's come in and got our team operating and the whole football club operating. We're fully behind it and understand what he's doing and now it's starting to feel really good out there [on the pitch].
"He's a good man-manager, he knows his system and he believed in the players and believed in us to go out and do it. When he gave us all that confidence it was just a matter of time.
"I go out there and I hate losing for him, because of the way he showed faith in all of us."
While these last four games have been encouraging, they haven't yet seen the ninth-placed Phoenix surge up the table or the crowds flocking back to Westpac. Sigmund is confident both those things will take care of themselves, but wanted to recognise the club's hard core supporters in the meantime.
"Yellow Fever are fantastic – I have to say that," he said.
"They really got behind us when we weren't winning and I have to say 'thank you' to them because they've backed us in what we're trying to do and they've seen what we were trying to do."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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