Ernie Merrick blows whistle on A-League refs
Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick renewed a call for the FFA to revisit its review system after a dubious penalty enabled the Melbourne Heart to equalise in a tense A-League stalemate yesterday that jeopardised both clubs' chances of qualifying for the finals series.
A dramatic and controversial 2-2 draw at AAMI Park leaves the Phoenix in eighth place and a win outside the top six playoff frame with four regular season matches remaining.
Although a solitary point was a less than ideal return against an opponent that thrashed them 5-0 a month ago, it was still a creditable outcome considering the adversity the Phoenix faced in captain Andrew Durante's 150th game for the club.
Melbourne avoided conceding a penalty for hand ball - and the potential sending off of defender Patrick Kisnorbo - in the 18th minute when trailing to Roy Krishna's first goal for the club and then gained a numerical advantage when Ben Sigmund was dismissed for a second yellow-card offence before halftime.
Sigmund's demise stretched an already inexperienced back four but the Phoenix regained the lead through Tyler Boyd in the 57th minute before Socceroos veteran Harry Kewell relied on his years of experience to gain a vital penalty after Manny Muscat made minimal contact with the Heart captain.
Merrick and Durante were unhappy with Australian match official Ben Williams, though the amiable Scot's counterpart John Van't Ship also argued Sigmund should have been shown a straight red when he collided with a goal-bound David Williams.
Kewell was nonplussed when quizzed on the legitimacy of the penalty he earned in the 61st minute, declaring post-match: "Of course ... a defender puts his leg out. What do you do?"
Merrick did not criticise Kewell directly or have a definitive view of Kisnorbo's hand ball but was clearly concerned about those potentially match-turning episodes.
"I heard Paddy [Kisnorbo] stopped the ball with his hand. That and a couple of people falling over every now and again, the game's changed a bit," he mused.
Merrick said he contacted the FFA after Reece Caira and Kenny Cunningham were struck in the face against Adelaide and Perth Glory respectively, urging those incidents be reviewed because there were no on-field sanctions.
He revealed an email from FFA referees' director Ben Wilson admitted the Phoenix should have received a penalty and a Perth Glory player be sent off for injuring Cunningham, but when Merrick pushed the matter further he was told there would be no retrospective punishment.
Merrick said he received an explanation from FFA legal counsel Chris Tompkins that left him perplexed.
"The letter was that long, it was similar to 'War and Peace'. The legal speak ... I was dizzy. I had to sit down after a while. It was such a convoluted excuse not to review it. I just wonder what's going on if you want to stamp out simulation and you want to stamp out violent conduct.
"If people dive in the box it should be reviewed because we try to stop simulation on our game."
Durante, who produced another sterling shift in the heart of the Phoenix defence felt Muscat - who moved from midfield following Sigmund's demise - was unfortunate to concede the penalty and cop a yellow card.
"He didn't pull shirts, he didn't grab him. Again, very soft. It's disappointing the referee had a big say in the game. Hopefully we'll get the rub of the green next game," he said.
A change of fortune would be timely against the Jets in Newcastle on Saturday given the Phoenix must, by Merrick's estimation, win three of their remaining games.
Meanwhile, he faces fresh injury concerns with the impressive Krishna now in doubt with a leg injury; two-game defender Shaun Timmins is also experiencing groin issues after a busier than expected workload.
Melbourne Heart 2 (Jonatan Germano 29, David Williams pen 62)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Roy Krishna 6, Tyler Boyd 57)