Merrick plays down Wellington Phoenix's hopes

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014
Ernie Merrick
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
NOT CARRIED AWAY: Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick.

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Smart man, Ernie Merrick.

Plenty of people, football fans and otherwise, will be interested in whether the Wellington Phoenix can kick on from last Saturday's sumptuous 5-0 dismantling of the Melbourne Victory.

You can't produce football that clinical and of that much quality without also building the expectation that it could, or should, happen again.

Well, to listen to Merrick, there's little chance that the Phoenix will trouble, let alone beat, the A-League-leading Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium tonight.

There's no way the Phoenix coach actually believes that. But by indicating that he expects little out of this match, he has completely removed any burden from his players.

They can now play without fear of the consequences, because Merrick has said this match will have no bearing on their season. He has asked them to perform well, but placed no emphasis on the result.

You have to admire the Scot's canniness. Behind closed doors he will have devised a gameplan to thwart the Roar and pumped the players full of the confidence required to do it.

But in public, he has only really spoken about how the absence of Carlos Hernandez and Kenny Cunningham, on international duty, and Matthew Ridenton (injury) might hamper his team and how good Brisbane are at home.

Both things are true, but you don't become the most successful coach in A-League history, as Merrick is on the back of his previous achievements at the Victory, by not being able to pick up points away from home in difficult circumstances.

The Phoenix aren't quite in the same league as Merrick's old Victory sides, but they are definitely trending in the right direction.

He has also had a bit of luck in the build-up. Brisbane might be top of the table, but their recent run of games haven't been the greatest, with losses to Newcastle and Adelaide and agoalless draw with Perth among them.

The suspension of Victory-bound Albanian striker Besart Berisha adds further pressure for the Roar. News of his departure, at season's end, will be both wounding and a distraction, given what a massive player and personality he has been for the club.

Berisha, despite not playing, is the talk of the Brisbane football market, taking all the scrutiny away from the Phoenix. Had Berisha not been suspended there might have been an element of business as usual about this.

But, with him out, you imagine the Brisbane players will be trying extra hard to show they're not bothered by his defection and that he won't be missed. It's just the sort of disruption the Phoenix could profit from.

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Elsewhere, Adelaide host the Melbourne Heart and the Central Coast have their derby game against Newcastle tomorrow, with the Victory at home to Sydney FC and Perth travelling to the Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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