Wellington need a stronger start and midfield control if they want to continue their four-match unbeaten A-League run, coach Ernie Merrick says.
While coach Ernie Merrick is counting on his hard-working midfield to give Wellington the edge over Melbourne Victory on Saturday, he says his team’s defensive cohesion will be equally important.
The Phoenix were badly exposed in their 3-2 A-League loss to Melbourne at AAMI Park in early November, conceding three goals in the first half-hour as their back four struggled with timing playing a high defensive line.
“We had some good possession, but we didn’t start well and you can’t let a team like Victory get away like that,” Merrick said.
Melbourne boast one of the strongest squads in the league, further boosted by the return of Archie Thompson from injury in last week’s 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers.
“James Troisi, Thompson, Gui Finkler … they’re just a very strong side,” Merrick said.
“We have to get midfield domination – that’s our strength. With Albert Reira and Vince Lia playing great football, Carlos Hernandez back to almost his best, Kenny Cunningham in the midfield, we’ve got some good strong players and it’ll be an exciting clash.”
Merrick also has the luxury of talented youngsters such as Matthew Ridenton, Jason Hicks and Tyler Boyd waiting on the sidelines.
Boyd has done enough in recent weeks to suggest he’s worthy of a start in place of out-of-touch striker Jeremy Brockie, who hasn’t scored since the Phoenix’s fourth-round loss to the Victory.
Merrick was also impressed with Ridenton’s cameo in Wellington’s 3-1 win over the Wanderers on January 1, and hinted the 17-year-old could be poised for more game time against the Victory.
After waiting 10 weeks for their first win, the Phoenix have kicked on with two more and a draw against defending champions Central Coast Mariners last week.
Merrick says the next two games – against the Victory at home and away to Brisbane Roar – will offer a better indication of where Wellington stand as they look to secure a berth in the playoffs.
“It won’t write us off, one way or the other, but it will tell us where we’re at, how far we’ve come and where we need to improve.”