Merrick muzzles talk of Phoenix turning point
Happy but nowhere near content.
Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick's reaction to his team's fabulous 5-0 flogging of the Melbourne Victory on Saturday was almost as impressive as the performance itself.
Merrick didn't crow or look to settle scores. He could have, given some of the unflattering things that've been said about his brief Phoenix tenure and the fact that the vanquished Victory sacked him not so long ago.
Back in December, Ernie's Eejits or Merrick's Muppets would have been the unkind, but still apt, names by which to refer to a team that went 10 weeks without a win, to start this A-League season.
Through it all Merrick continued to talk about his team's playoff aspirations and the quality of play that wasn't being reflected in the results. What looked fanciful five weeks ago suddenly seems like fact, on the back of three wins, a draw and Saturday's sensational night of football at Westpac Stadium.
Everything the Phoenix did was quality and suggests the sky could be the limit this season. It was certainly a benchmark performance - just don't call it a turning point.
"I'm just not a believer in turning points. I think it's just a case of you keep working at it," Merrick said.
"It's always a work in progress, you're always trying to get more consistent. Certain areas you want to get better.
"You want to get shots on target more, you want to get your backline up and down and there's just so much that you have to work on and if you believe in a sudden turning point, I guess you could believe the other way that suddenly it all goes bad and I don't believe in that either.
"I just think the boys' attitude to continuing to improve has been first class. Even when we went 10 games without a win, their attitude never faltered."
It's clear the players believed in Merrick's methods, but that would only have been cemented by Saturday's result. The coach told them that if they followed his instructions they'd beat the Victory and, boy, did they do that.
"It's a long time coming, a result like that. It's a long time coming for the fans, they were fantastic," Phoenix captain Andrew Durante said.
"They kept crying out for more goals and more goals and it was a great feeling being out there and hopefully we can go on. We've got a big test next weekend as well."
The Phoenix are away to league leaders the Brisbane Roar and will meet them without star midfielders Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham. Hernandez scored a first half brace on Saturday, and Cunningham a brilliant volley, before Jeremy Brockie and Stein Huysegems completed the scoring.
But the Costa Ricans are off on international duty, despite next week not being a Fifa window.
"We've released them on the proviso that they're back for the following game [against Adelaide], with two or three days to spare. Costa Rica are in the World Cup, it's the right thing to do," said Merrick.