Late Goal Sinks Phoenix

The Wellington Phoenix’ 1-0 loss to Auckland City at Kiwitea Street on Saturday was just what the doctor ordered for head coach Ernie Merrick.

The Wellington Phoenix- 1-0 loss to Auckland City at Kiwitea Street on Saturday was just what the doctor ordered for head coach Ernie Merrick.

Not the result, because Merrick dislikes losing with a passion, but the workout his players got with the Hyundai A-League season now just two weeks away.

While satisfied with the way pre-season has progressed - including impressive wins over Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets - Merrick has been frustrated by not being able to put out what he considers will be his best side.

“This was our ninth pre-season game and only our second loss, but we have still not been able to put our full squad on the field,” Merrick said.

“Either our All Whites have been away or we have had key players missing through injury.

“Today slight injuries kept Carlos (Hernandez), Kenny (Cunningham) and Paul (Ifill) back in Wellington and I-m hoping they all come right for our first game against Brisbane Roar.

“When we get them all together it will be a formidable side.”

Merrick wasn-t using the absence of star players as an excuse for the loss and gave Auckland City full credit for a win that came through a late long-range strike by youngster Sam Burfoot.

“It was a fair result, Auckland deserved to win,” Merrick said.

“I wanted a really tough, hard game and that is what we got because Auckland were really up for it.

“They were all over us early and we were lucky not to go down a couple of goals because Jacob Spoonley was outstanding in our goal.

“With important decisions to be made in the next couple of weeks I had to have a good look at a few trialists because you need to see them in tough games.”

At half time Merrick introduced skipper Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Reece Caira, Tyler Boyd and goalkeeper Glen Moss and the experience of Durante and Muscat in particular helped the Phoenix get a foothold in the game.

“Strengthening the midfield and having Andrew at the back changed things,” Merrick said.

“We took over the middle of the park and dominated possession.

“I still had to play three youngsters - Joel Stevens, 18, Alex Rufer, 17, and Tyler Boyd, 18, and has hardly played for 18 months, up front and we didn-t look like scoring.”

The game was the last sanctioned pre-season game for the Phoenix and Merrick is satisfied with the way his team is progessing.

“It (pre-season) has been very thorough and the players have worked very hard technically and physically,” he said.

Wellington Phoenix: Jacob Spoonley (Glen Moss 45m), Justin Gulley (Michael Boxall 60m). Ben Sigmund, Luke Adams (Andrew Durante 45m), Josh Brindell-South (Reece Caira 45m), Leo Bertos, Vince Lia (Joel Stevens 65m), Tobias Bertsch (Manny Muscat 45m), Hamish Watson (Tyler Boyd 45m), Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems (Alex Rufer 71m).