Merrick rues little left in the Phoenix reserves

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2014
Ernie Merrick
KEVIN STENT/ Fairfax NZ
ERNIE MERRICK: "We've got a lot of stakeholders and we just need to make sure that we take the time to make the right decisions and do the right thing for the Phoenix and the All Whites."

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Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick says establishing a reserve team that plays meaningful matches is a must if the club is to keep pace with the rest of the A-League.

The nine Australian clubs all have teams in the national youth league, while they now also have representation in the newly-established, second-tier national premier league, which underpins the A-League.

The Phoenix, meanwhile, play just a handful of friendlies against often understrength New Zealand national league opponents each season.

It has been a major handicap for the Phoenix since their inception in 2007. It hinders their ability to develop youngsters, keep squad players match-fit or get first-XI stars up to speed after injuries.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin is in Wellington this weekend meeting Phoenix bosses and the reserve team issue will be up for discussion.

"That's certainly on the agenda," Martin said.

"We've got a lot of stakeholders and we just need to make sure that we take the time to make the right decisions and do the right thing for the Phoenix and the All Whites."

The Phoenix host Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium today but Merrick has conceded any realistic hopes of qualifying for the finals are over.

Wellington have lost six players to season-ending injuries and the lack of reserve team games has exacerbated the situation.

"It's a huge problem for the coaching staff and for the players," Merrick said.

"When someone like Luke Adams, we could really have used last weekend, he's hardly played a competitive game this year and not having a reserve side just holds back the development of these younger players.

"I know our board are working with New Zealand Football to see what we can do in that respect but we must have a competitive reserve team, playing competitively every week, if we are going to progress. I've been asking it every week since I've been here. But it has to happen because look how far forward the other A-League teams will be going. They've got boys playing 50 games a year, ready to go at any time and we don't have that development. We must play competitive football."

Merrick was unsure whether the solution was for a reserve team to play in the national league or another competition.

"I'll leave that to the board, I've got my hands full at the moment but we have to have a competitive reserve team."

The Phoenix badly need to make amends for last weekend's 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Jets in Newcastle.

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The return from suspension of centre back Ben Sigmund should help, with Michael Boxall expected to revert to right back and Manny Muscat replacing Matthew Ridenton in midfield.

The Phoenix also have a score to settle with Adelaide, having been pumped 5-1 by the Reds last month at Coopers Stadium.

AT A GLANCE

What: A-League, round 25
Where: Westpac Stadium
When: 3pm today
TV: Live on Sky Sport 4
Referee: Peter Green
TAB: Phoenix $2.90, Adelaide $2.30, draw $3.30

Phoenix (from): Glen Moss, Shaun Timmins, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Michael Boxall, Manny Muscat, Kenny Cunningham, Vince Lia, Carlos Hernandez, Tyler Boyd, Stein Huysegems, Lewis Italiano, Matthew Ridenton, Jason Hicks, Roy Krishna, Jeremy Brockie, Alex Rufer, Hamish Watson

Adelaide (from): Eugene Galekovic, Michael Marrone, Nigel Boogaard, Osama Malik, Jeronimo Neumann, Isaias, Marcelo Carrusca, Bruce Djite, Cameron Watson, Awer Mabil, Michael Zullo, Paul Izzo, Tarek Elrich, Fabio Ferreira, Jordan Elsey, Ryan Kitto, Nathan Konstandopoulos

- The Dominion Post

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