Phoenix repay Merrick's faith with 5 of the best
Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has hailed an all-round team performance following his side's 5-0 demolition of Melbourne Victory in Wellington last night.
Merrick endured a wretched start to his tenure as Phoenix coach as his side failed to register a win in their first 10 games of the season.
Throughout that difficult period Merrick kept faith in his squad, insisting they were heading in the right direction.
They finally registered their first win of the season against Sydney FC just before Christmas and have been one of the A-League's form teams ever since - victory over Melbourne last night taking their unbeaten run to five games, including four wins.
"We've had some really good performances with nothing to show for it [earlier in the season]. It was just unfortunate for [Melbourne] Victory that on the day everything came good for us," Merrick said.
"I don't think at any stage we were under pressure, we controlled the midfield, our backline got it right ... and our strikers were just in the right position, we maybe even could've scored a couple more actually."
Despite the comprehensive result the Scot was typically level-headed.
"We haven't achieved anything yet but it's good that that's another win and we're having this run now of five games [unbeaten] and we'll carry that into [Brisbane] Roar away now," he said.
He also had high praise for three of the squad's younger brigade - new right back Michael Boxall, striker Tyler Boyd and teenage midfielder Matthew Ridenton.
"The right back did a great job I thought. It's new to him - Boxall - and the young 17-year-old did really well, Matthew Ridenton, coming on for Carlos [Hernandez] and Tyler Boyd nearly played 90 minutes and he was always threatening, he did a great job.
The Phoenix dominated possession from the off against the third-placed Victory and went ahead in the 21st minute when Costa Rican playmaker Hernandez buried a powerful right foot shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Nathan Coe's goal.
Not to be outdone, Hernandez's compatriot Kenny Cunningham produced a contender for goal of the season just before halftime - a dipping, swerving volley from well outside the 18-yard-box.
There was still time for one more goal before halftime as Hernandez was bought down by a flailing leg inside the area, before stepping up to convert the penalty and make it 3-0 at the break.
Hernandez was replaced by Ridenton early in the second half and the game threatened to meander to a close without another goal until the introduction of Jeremy Brockie with 10 minutes to go.
Brockie, last season's top scorer for the Phoenix, has endured a drought in front of goal this season, but put an end to that soon after entering the fray as he latched on to a through ball from the excellent Albert Riera, finishing with a first-time shot across goalkeeper Coe into the bottom right-hand corner.
Striker Stein Huysegems put the icing on the cake two minutes later, with a cool finish on the turn to make it 5-0. It was the Belgian's seventh goal of the season, tying him for first place on the A-League's golden boot table.
After the game Merrick insisted there was no issue with Hernandez, who was visibly unhappy when substituted early in the second half.
"Carlos had a slight calf injury, he was limping, we took him off, he wanted to stay on, but I have to make these decisions, he's very happy now though."
The Phoenix face a tough assignment in the next game against runaway league leaders Brisbane Roar in Brisbane on Friday night.
And if they are to extend their unbeaten run to six games they will have to do it without star Costa Rican contingent of Hernandez and Cunningham, who have been released from the squad to play for their national team.