Merrick could have been cheering Adelaide

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2014
Ernie Merrick
Getty Images
OLD FLAME: Coach Ernie Merrick of the Phoenix.

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Ernie Merrick could easily have been coaching against the Wellington Phoenix tomorrow night.

The Scotsman applied for the vacant Adelaide United position in the off season but, despite his resume including two A-League titles with Melbourne Victory, was not even granted an interview.

The job instead went to former Barcelona youth coach Josep Gombau, who Merrick knew from his stint in Hong Kong; where Merrick was the national team boss and Gombau in charge of club team Kitchee.

Merrick was eventually handed the reins at the Phoenix and both men have had success implementing more attractive and effective styles of football.

But is there any extra motivation lingering from the snub?

"No, no, this is football," said Merrick from Adelaide yesterday, where the Phoenix are preparing for tomorrow night's clash at Coopers Stadium.

"I was interested in that job, I was interested in the Phoenix job. Josep got the Adelaide job and he's doing very well. I've got the Phoenix job and I'm very happy to be there. I knew him, of course, in Hong Kong and he did well there and he's doing well with Adelaide."

The Phoenix have set up camp in the City of Churches since Friday's come-from-behind 4-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners in Gosford.

Carlos Hernandez was outstanding again that night and the Costa Rican playmaker leads the Alex Tobin Award voting with 19 points, one ahead of Brisbane Roar's German maestro Thomas Broich.

Merrick believed Hernandez's form was as strong as it was in 2009-10, when he won the Johnny Warren Medal under Merrick at Victory.

"It's very similar. Carlos, in his first season at Victory, was just getting used to everything. He didn't have a great first year, his second year we won the title and he was voted player of the year. He's playing in a similar fashion now and he's 4.5kg lighter than he was then.

"As I've said from day one, he's got renewed maturity, he's very enthusiastic and highly motivated, not only to do well for the Phoenix but also to do well for Costa Rica and I hope he gets a chance at the World Cup."

Midfielder Jason Hicks and striker Hamish Watson, who didn't feature in the Mariners match, have joined the squad in Adelaide.

But there are unlikely to be changes given the magnificent second half display in Gosford, as Manny Muscat (defensive midfield) and Reece Caira (left back) started to get to grips with their roles.

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"I'll try and stabilise that midfield and backline as much as possible."

Merrick said midfielder Albert Riera had been ruled out for the rest of the regular season after undergoing surgery on his groin.

"If we get in the finals, there's a chance he might be available."

AT A GLANCE

Alex Tobin Award leaders

Carlos Hernandez (Phoenix, 19 points)
Thomas Broich (Brisbane, 18)
Aaron Mooy (Wanderers, 14)
Luke Brattan (Brisbane, 14)
Marcelo Carrusca (Adelaide, 14)

- The Dominion Post

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