Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick is putting the heat on his midfield players to set the standard for the season when they take on glamour English club West Ham at Eden Park tomorrow night.
The Phoenix went through their final buildup in an open training session on the famous rugby ground today and Merrick made no secret of his hopes for this preseason match.
He promised to play his best team available tomorrow night and wants a performance to not just match the occasion but set up their A-League season.
"We've been together for four and a half weeks, we're ready to go, the boys are buzzing," Merrick declared.
"We had a team meeting, we talked about playing football and playing a standard that we want to maintain throughout the season ...not changing it just for one game, where we park the bus and counter-attack. It's about trying to play good football and that means midfield play."
Merrick, a double A-League winner when he was in charge of the Melbourne Victory had similar experiences at the Australian club, playing Chilean outfit Colo Colo, English club Fulham and a career highlight clash with Italian giants Juventus that attracted 40,000 in 2008.
Melbourne did well to hold Juventus to 2-1 before two late goals bloated the score line to the visitors.
"They beat us but it was an entertaining game and the crowd went home very happy," Merrick remembered.
"That's what we have to do here. We have to be realistic about winning this game. We will certainly play to win but it's about midfield play and having the confidence to keep possession against top level players and not being intimidated.
"So it's a great learning curve for youngsters. I'm sure our youngsters are going to have stars in their eyes for these games against West Ham and Newcastle.
"They are teams and players we watch on television and they can see themselves being there one day. Maybe this is an opportunity to be seen."
Merrick hoped to see a crowd of 18-20,000 turn up in Auckland.
He heads to Dunedin this afternoon to take in the game between Newcastle and Sydney FC.
It's a chance to scout Newcastle ahead of their clash in Wellington on Saturday and an opportunity to have an an early look at Sydney with a longer view of the A-League.
Merrick also fielded his daily question over whether Michael McGlinchey had been cleared to play as his transfer dispute with the Central Coast Mariners dragged on.
"I'd like to have a comment, I'm desperate to have a comment but there's nothing to be gained. The boy is in limbo. Hopefully the FFA will sort something out soon."
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