Measured Phoenix coach Merrick clears the air

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 27/01/2014
Ernie Merrick
MARTY MELVILLE/Photosport
ERNIE MERRICK: "... there's nothing more ridiculous than us sitting on $5 white plastic BBQ chairs, in the howling wind and rain, with umbrellas over our heads, trying to coach a game."

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Ernie Merrick had a couple of things to get off his chest.

He wasn't bombastic about it. That's not his way, with the Scot's calm demeanour surely a reason why his Wellington Phoenix haven't foundered after a faltering start to the A-League season.

All the same, Merrick wanted a clarification, following the Phoenix's 2-1 loss to the Brisbane Roar on Friday, plus the chance to reiterate the generous comments he made about predecessor Ricki Herbert, after that match.

First, the point of order.

"Just to correct a newspaper, I didn't say we'd meet them in the grand final. I said we'd probably meet them in the finals and see if we can fix this 2-1 deficit we've had three times in a row [this season]," Merrick said yesterday.

The chances look promising, even if the Phoenix still sit ninth on the league table, miles back from runaway leaders the Roar.

Not that you'd have known that for much of the 90 minutes in Brisbane.

The Phoenix took the Roar on at their own game, playing with a precision and respect for possession that hasn't always been the club's hallmark.

Merrick's keenly aware of the position on the table, but also the credit he's getting for the style with which the Phoenix are playing.

He doesn't believe his team are as bad as ninth, nor that he's done a huge amount different than what Herbert was.

"You can't ignore the table and I would say, if I was asked halfway through the season where I thought we were at, I would say we're ahead of where I thought we'd be regarding the quality of play, the number of new players that've come into the team and the way they've fitted in with the style of play, but I'd say we're behind in the number of points we should've accumulated," said Merrick.

"But the recent run has shown that we can pick up points on a regular basis and although you say we're in ninth spot, and we are, the difference now between us and being in the [top] six is only really one game or three points now."

And Merrick wants to give Herbert some credit for that, citing the spirit the former coach left in the side, not to mention the number of rock-solid professionals like Glen Moss, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Stein Huysegems and Jeremy Brockie.

Merrick added that he liked and admired Herbert and didn't see why praise of the new regime always had to be couched in terms that were critical of the old.

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That's a debate for another day. What's important is that the Phoenix meet Adelaide United at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday, as part of a run of matches Merrick's calling "six-pointers."

After Adelaide, the Phoenix are away to Newcastle and home against the Melbourne Heart. All three are hugely winnable and represent a chance to accumulate the points not gained against better opposition earlier in the season.

Merrick will have Costa Ricans Kenny Cunningham and Carlos Hernandez back from international duty to meet Adelaide, although he's not sure what sort of nick Hernandez is in.

Cunningham played the full 90 in Costa Rica's 4-0 loss to Chile and then came off the bench in their 1-0 defeat against South Korea. But Hernandez only had 60 minutes in the first game and none in the second and Merrick fears he might've tweaked the calf that was injured in the 5-0 mauling of Melbourne Victory.

The pair arrive back in Wellington late tomorrow night, before the team fly out to Auckland on Wednesday morning to begin preparations for Adelaide.

- Fairfax Media

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