Vince Lia learning from Ernie Merrick's methods
A change in coach always causes a degree of anxiety for players.
But Phoenix midfielder Vince Lia had more reason than most to feel a bit toey when it was announced that Ernie Merrick was coming to town.
Merrick signed Lia - then one of Australia's rising stars - at Melbourne Victory in 2005.
Lia made 17 appearances in 2005-06 but just seven in the championship-winning 2006-07 campaign.
Merrick released him to join the Phoenix for their debut season and Lia is the only foundation player still at the club.
And his pre-season uncertainty is now a distant memory; under Merrick he has started all 11 games this season and has had more touches (734) than any other Phoenix player.
"When a new coach comes there's always that bit of 'is he going to like me?' regardless of whether you've had them before," Lia said ahead of tonight's bottom-of-the-table visit to the last-placed Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park.
"But we got along pretty well in Melbourne. He let me go when my contract was up but that gave me the opportunity to come here and I'm glad I got that opportunity. When a new coach comes in you're not sure. But he's been great since he came here, we've got along really well and the stuff he's been doing at training is really good and positive. I think he is the right man for the job and it's great that we finally got him a win."
Lia has played 117 games for the Phoenix but he is not adored by the fans in the same way fellow centurions Paul Ifill, Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund are.
He has limitations as a footballer - just two A-League goals to his name - and under Ricki Herbert his job description was midfield destroyer.
But the 28-year-old has undeniably expanded his repertoire in his second stint under Merrick.
Instead of just passing backwards or sideways he is distributing effectively to the strikers and No 10 Carlos Hernandez.
And Albert Riera's assured work as the screening midfielder has freed him up to get forward.
"I agree, I think I have improved under Ernie," Lia said.
"He changes your mindset a little bit. Your first thought is a forward pass, pass and move, and I think everyone's improved. I have got a lot more of the ball."
Lia said Sunday's 1-0 win over Sydney FC - the Phoenix's first of the season - had reaffirmed the players' belief that they were on the right track in Merrick's new system.
A Victorian, Lia was at a loss to explain the Phoenix's winless record in Melbourne, and they will never get a better opportunity to nab three points than tonight.
The Heart are now the league's only winless club, and young coach John Aloisi is under immense pressure to break the duck.
Aloisi reacted angrily on Saturday to former Socceroos team-mate Mark Bosnich's inquiry as to whether he would step down.
He continued his defiant mood yesterday.
"I'm not a quitter, I love this job, I love working with the boys," Aloisi said.
"We're all working together to get out of this situation and start winning games ... We feel we can beat Wellington. We know they're a decent side, they've got some good players that can make a difference but we're confident that we can win on Friday."
Merrick will probably make just one change to his XI, with Jeremy Brockie in line to return for the injured Ifill (Achilles).
Aloisi said his only change would be Patrick Gerhardt in for suspended centre back Patrick Kisnorbo.
Harry Kewell has been declared fit after copping a knock to his knee in the 3-1 derby loss to Melbourne Victory.
Heart: Andrew Redmayne, Aziz Behich, Rob Wielaert, Patrick Gerhardt, Jason Hoffman, Nick Kalmar, Massimo Murdocca, Harry Kewell, Mate Dugandzic, David Williams, Michael Mifsud. Bench (from): Tando Velaphi, David Vrankovic, Andrea Migliorini, Iain Ramsay, Golgol Mebrahtu, Stefan Mauk, Ben Garuccio
Phoenix (likely): Glen Moss, Manny Muscat, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Louis Fenton, Albert Riera, Vince Lia, Kenny Cunningham, Carlos Hernandez, Stein Huysegems, Jeremy Brockie. Bench: Lewis Italiano, Michael Boxall, Jason Hicks, Leo Bertos, Tyler Boyd
The Dominion Post