If you want to test the temperature of a football club, talk to a former first-team regular that now struggles to get a game.
Leo Bertos was rarely absent during Ricki Herbert's tenure as Wellington Phoenix coach. Once one of the club's few attacking threats, and its dead-ball specialist, Bertos might have become a fullback by the time Herbert departed, but he was still in the side.
Under Ernie Merrick though, the 32-year-old's appearances have been more sporadic and largely off the bench.
Some blokes might have sulked at suddenly becoming a spare part, but not Bertos. He bought into Merrick's methods from the get-go and believes he can win back a spot in the starting XI.
If not, then he'll continue to staunchly support the direction the Phoenix are headed.
"Even in the pre-season you could see a difference and the way we've approached things this year has been great," Bertos said yesterday.
"The way we've trained and the ideas Ernie has and the way he wants to play the game [have been a change] and it takes time to adjust.
"But right from our first game I think we've played pretty well and that we've played pretty well in all the games, bar one or two, and just haven't got the results.
"Apart from last weekend [when they lost 2-1 to Brisbane], it's started coming together and we've started learning how to win and started believing that what we're doing is the right thing.
"It just takes a bit of time, but now everyone knows their roles really well and it's a matter of producing in the games what we've been producing on the training field."
The club's headquarters at Newtown Park are a real field of knowledge now and Bertos has had more to pick up than most, as he tries to rediscover his attacking spark.
He and Merrick quickly agreed that he was no right back, with the question then being where to put him. Bertos feels his utility value has hampered him this season and that he would like to be playing in the middle of the park, as he did off the bench against Brisbane.
Merrick wanted workrate and vision in midfield last Friday, rejigging his formation to get Bertos out there. The move was a qualified success, although it's doubtful it'll be repeated on Saturday, with Merrick indicating Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham will return to the side for the meeting with Adelaide United at Eden Park.
Bertos said he could cop that, because competition for places is the hallmark of any decent football club.
What he wants more than minutes, is for the Phoenix to get some tangible reward for the good things they're doing, starting with a win at Eden Park.
Adelaide are four points ahead of the ninth-placed Phoenix and sit just inside the top-six. For all the positivity around the Phoenix ninth in a 10-team league is hardly sensational, although Bertos doesn't regard it as a true reflection of his side's quality.
"That's more of a fan's perspective, whereas we believe in what we're doing on the field and know it will change, like it has in the last couple of months. It's just a matter of continuing to produce that and, even, improve on that and then it'll all change in a couple of weeks and we'll move up the table."
- The Dominion Post
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