Phoenix keep faith in Ernie Merrick's methods

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:01 14/12/2013
Louis Fenton
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ
LEARNING THE ROPES: Phoenix right back Louis Fenton jostles with Leo Bertos at training yesterday.

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There is no temptation to try and win ugly as the struggling Phoenix keep the faith in Ernie Merrick's new possession-based plan.

Winless after eight games, and coming off a season-worst performance in Perth, the odds are stacked against the Phoenix as they prepare to host A-League leaders Brisbane at Westpac Stadium today.

The feel-good factor around Merrick's appointment, and the arrival of star playmaker Carlos Hernandez, has evaporated and only the hardcore fans are likely to part with their cash unless the wins start coming.

"We all feel that we've let the fans down, we feel we should have won three games and we let it slip," Merrick said.

"They're a very tight-knit group and their work-rate on and off the field has been great ... but we need to start winning games to thank the fans."

Merrick, a two-time A-League winner with Melbourne Victory, is used to the pressure.

He quipped yesterday that there would be 30 journalists at a Victory media session if the team were winless, and in those days even if they won by one goal there were sometimes inquests.

Staring at the star-studded Brisbane squad is only likely to give Merrick a headache and his focus is firmly on squeezing every last drop of potential out of his own players.

Left back Reece Caira has been dropped and in his place Manny Muscat is back from suspension.

Carlos Hernandez, Albert Riera and Paul Ifill are all under injury clouds and a decision on their participation will be made this morning.

Merrick hinted that Hernandez and Riera would probably start in midfield with Ifill more likely to return to his impact role off the bench.

"The worst thing you can do is try and defend the whole game against them," Merrick said of the Roar, whose attacking cast includes Matt McKay, Ivan Franjic, Liam Miller, Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha.

Captain Andrew Durante agreed and said the Phoenix would keep playing football rather than resorting to counter-attack or long ball.

After a wooden spoon 2012-13 season he is sick of losing but confident the worm will turn eventually.

"There's obviously frustration, I think the football we're playing deserves a lot more points than we've got [four]," Durante said.

"Last year, around this time, we were on about 12 points but not playing great football ... The players are frustrated but we have a really strong belief that we're on the right path and doing the right things. If we stick to it - which we will, we're not going to revert to any different style of football - the wins will come. There's definitely not panic stations."

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The light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that the season is 27 games long and that a generous six teams qualify for the finals.

Both Merrick and Durante rallied around young right back Louis Fenton, who endured a torrid night in the 4-2 loss to the Glory and won't get any respite against Broich and co.

"It's really difficult for Louis, he's been an attack-minded player his whole career and all of a sudden he's been thrown into a defensive-minded job," Durante said.

"He made a few mistakes early in the game but I thought in the second half he kicked on and showed how good he can be in that position."

Said Merrick: "He'll be back in at right back and that's my job to coach him, to get his confidence back."

HOW THEY LINE UP

 

What: A-League, round 10

Where: Westpac Stadium

When: 5.30pm today

Referee: Shaun Evans

TV: Live on Sky Sport 3

TAB: Brisbane $1.90, Phoenix $3.70, Draw $3.50

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

Brisbane (from): Michael Theo, Jack Hingert, James Donachie, Matt Smith, Corey Brown, Luke Brattan, Matt McKay, Ivan Franjic, Liam Miller, Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Matthew Acton, Diogo Ferreira, Henrique, Dimitri Petratos, Kwame Yeboah

- The Dominion Post

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