Injuries invade Wellington Phoenix's 'good space'
It'd be nice to think Ernie Merrick was plotting the ambush of the season.
The reality is the Wellington Phoenix coach is a man fully aware the forces of gravity are working against his squad as they head to Brisbane.
So he wasted no time getting to a few raw facts yesterday after a bouyant and energetic training session at Newtown Park.
"Overall there are five out. The two Costa Ricans [Kenny Cunningham and Carlos Hernandez] on national duty, Paul Ifill and [Louis] Fenton of course, but now Matthew Ridenton has tweaked his knee so we're giving him a rest," Merrick said.
Hence, a slightly experimental squad will take on the table-topping Roar at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night.
Left fullback Reece Caira will meet the team in Brisbane, while Merrick said defender Josh Brindell-South and midfielders Jason Hicks and Alex Rufer were all options.
"We haven't decided yet, so we've got a few youngsters who will get an opportunity I'd say. We'll take 16 players, including Reece, so we won't be taking any extras," Merrick said.
It was an opening salvo somewhat against the tide of positive vibes that's swirled around the side since their 5-0 win over the Melbourne Victory.
Make no mistake, the Phoenix are in a good space. It was written on the faces of the players and obvious in their body language as they went about their work.
Merrick knows five good weeks do not make a season. He knows the Phoenix are still ninth on the ladder and that unrealistic expectations often end badly.
"Playing them in Brisbane at their own ground in front of their own crowd is going to be a real challenge for us. If we stick to our job we'll be very competitive," he said.
"We know the expectation has risen and this is maybe going to be a reality check, but what I'll be impressed with is the performance rather than the result.
"It's too early to say this will be a benchmark game. It's not our full squad and it is away from home. You get your benchmark through a range of games and stats and information. It doesn't always come down to a couple of games."
Earlier in the day he'd delivered a similar sermon to the changing room.
"There's no doubt being competitive footballers, winning 5-0 gives you a bit of a buzz and a spring in the step.
"The boys have enjoyed that, but as I explained at the meeting this morning, you can't get too high from a result like that and similarly you can't get too low from being beaten 3 or 4 nil. It's about being stable and doing your job."
It's a sound philosophy and one that's seen the Phoenix steadily rebuild their season over five entertaining weeks that have seen four wins and a draw.
A win over the Roar isn't impossible, but escaping with a draw would be acceptable all things considered against a side five clear at the top of the ladder.
Meanwhile, Merrick revealed Fenton's keyhole surgery on his shoulder had gone "extremely well", but would unfortunately see him out of action for eight to nine months.
If his rehab goes to plan, Fenton could take part in the preseason next year.