Phoenix can't afford to sit and watch – Merrick

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
Ernie Merrick
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax Media
NEEDING FIRE POWER: Ernie Merrick wants to strengthen his squad in the January transfer window.

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If you stand back and admire the quality of Melbourne Victory's play, you'll be congratulating them on a good win 90 minutes later.

To beat the Victory, says Wellington Phoenix boss Ernie Merrick, you must get among them. And he ought to know, having coached the Melbourne club to two A-League titles.

The Phoenix have already been guilty of giving the Victory too much latitude this season, surrendering three goals before their round four clash at Etihad Stadium had barely begun. The final result was a tolerable 3-2, but Merrick won't cop a similar start when the teams meet at Westpac Stadium tonight.

"As I've continually said to our players, it's about how we play. It's not about how they play and if we play well, we prevent them from playing – whoever they are," Merrick said.

"All these boys that they've got, player for player they've got a very good squad. Between Victory and [Brisbane] Roar, they'd have the best squads in the league on paper.

"[James] Troisi, [Archie] Thompson, [Gui] Finkler, it's just a very strong side. But we've got some good strong players as well."

Which is what Merrick has also been reminding his players this week.

The Central Coast's organisation and, occasional, cynicism frustrated the Phoenix during Sunday's 1-1 draw. But Merrick liked the fact that his team continued to press, continued to play and he sees no other way forward against the Victory.

That means trying to run the game in midfield, rather than sitting and reacting to it.

"Well, we have to. That's our strength, with Albert Riera, Vince Lia playing great football, Carlos [Hernandez] almost back to his best."

Merrick wants to retain the basis of the team that's done well in the last couple of weeks, with a few ducks and drakes to be played over the last couple of squad places. Leo Bertos looks like he'll be on the bench somewhere, while there's a decision to be made between Tyler Boyd and Jeremy Brockie.

The coach initially said he'd be agonising over that tonight, then conceded he'd known for days whether Boyd or Brockie would start.

"I just don't reveal them till the last minute. I try not to help the opposition too much."

The third-placed Victory come into this match on the back of Tuesday's 3-1 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers and Merrick expects them to throw men forward at every opportunity. Not that he's too bothered.

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"It's an exciting clash, it's [come] at the right time for us."

Phoenix: (from) Glen Moss, Michael Boxall, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante (c), Manny Muscat, Albert Riera, Vince Lia, Kenny Cunningham, Carlos Hernandez, Stein Huysegems, Jeremy Brockie, Lewis Italiano, Matthew Ridenton, Jason Hicks, Leo Bertos, Tyler Boyd, Josh Brindell-South

Victory: (from) Nathan Coe, Pablo Contreras, Adama Traore, Leigh Broxham, Gui Finkler, Kosta Barbarouses, Archie Thompson, James Troisi, Rashid Mahazi, James Jeggo, Lawrence Thomas, Jesse Makarounas, Adrian Leijer, Jordan Brown, Christopher Cristaldo, Dylan Murnane, Milos Ridesic

- The Dominion Post

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