Ernie Merrick was putting on a brave face yesterday but the reality is that the Phoenix's path to the finals has become significantly steeper, following news that Carlos Hernandez will be sidelined for six weeks.
The Costa Rican playmaker flew home to Wellington yesterday after X-rays revealed a fractured wrist, which will need surgery this week.
Hernandez suffered the injury early in Friday's 1-0 win over Melbourne Heart but played on. It was initially thought to be just a sprain.
The setback leaves coach Merrick without his two most creative players, with Paul Ifill already sidelined for the season with a ruptured Achilles.
Stein Huysegems has filled in for Hernandez in the midfield this season but Merrick is now reluctant to move the Belgian striker, who has scored in his past two games.
Jason Hicks is the likely replacement for tonight's game against the Western Sydney Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium.
But, while he has some skill and fast feet, the young Kiwi does not possess the same vision or experience as Hernandez, who leads the Phoenix with four goal assists this season.
"He's pretty devastated because it's a World Cup year for Costa Rica," Merrick said.
"But if he gets the surgery done quickly, he'll recover faster and will still be available for eight, nine games in the A-League. We've lost a couple of key players, Paul and Carlos, but that's why you have a squad of 22. Stein has scored four goals for us so you're robbing Peter to pay Paul in that scenario. It'll be more likely one of our up-and-coming young players coming into that role."
Louis Fenton (shoulder) trained well yesterday but a decision on the right back's fitness will be made today.
With two straight wins, the ninth-placed Phoenix remain positive and plan to take the game to the second-placed Wanderers.
Merrick remains patient with out-of-sorts striker Jeremy Brockie, who hasn't scored since round four.
The coach is impressed with his workrate and was urging him to try to focus on scoring tap-ins, rather than screamers.
"The best thing he can do is not be concerned about creating all his own chances and scoring screamers from distance. He just has to rely on the delivery and service, which he may or may not have got last year."
Merrick also waved away concerns about playing at Pirtek Stadium despite recent fan violence. At least eight supporters were admitted to hospital in Melbourne on Saturday following a street brawl between Wanderers and Victory fans.
"There's always a small percentage of fans that don't do the right thing but the fans at Pirtek Stadium have been terrific towards us," Merrick said.
"They create a great atmosphere at the stadium and I'm looking forward to that."
The Phoenix have held the Wanderers to two draws this season.
AT A GLANCE
What: A-League, round 13
Where: Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta
When: 9pm today TV: Live on Sky Sport 4
TAB: Wanderers $1.40, Phoenix $8, draw $4.15
Referee: Lucien Laverdure
Wanderers (from): Ante Covic, Adam D'Apuzzo, Matthew Spiranovic, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jerome Polenz, Mateo Poljak, Iacopo La Rocca, Shinji Ono, Youssouf Hersi, Labinot Haliti, Tomi Juric, Jerrad Tyson, Michael Beauchamp, Dean Heffernan, Tahj Minniecon, Jason Trifiro, Kwabena Appiah, Brendon Santalab
Phoenix (from): Glen Moss, Manny Muscat, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Louis Fenton, Albert Riera, Vince Lia, Kenny Cunningham, Jason Hicks, Stein Huysegems, Jeremy Brockie, Lewis Italiano, Michael Boxall, Matthew Ridenton, Leo Bertos, Tyler Boyd, Josh Brindell-South
- © Fairfax NZ News