A half-time rocket from Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has provided the catalyst for a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Central Coast Mariners in Wellington.
The visitors led 2-0 at the break, causing the usually cool Scotsman to unleash a blunt assessment in the changing sheds.
“At half-time, I said we can’t play like this going into the finals. We might as well give it away now if we’re not going to get into goalscoring positions. We didn’t really compete as well as we could in the first half. (We let in) soft goals again. But in the second half, they showed what they can do”, said Merrick.
For the fourth time in five matches, the Phoenix conceded a goal inside the first quarter-hour and skipper Andrew Durante said it was a habit his side needed to fix ahead of the finals.
“We were doing our best to test Ernie’s stress levels. You can’t be conceding these goals so early in games”, said Durante.
“In finals football, you’re not going to come back like that. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot early on. We speak about it every week and it’s crept into our game over the past month. There’s lots to work on.”
But Durante was proud of how his side responded in the second half.
“It was exactly what Ernie told us to do at half-time – to go at them, and if we got one, we knew they’d panic a little bit. We left it late but that whole second half I thought we completely battered them possession-wise and chances-wise. We were good and that was an extremely exciting finish.”
And Durante paid tribute to super-sub Kenny Cunningham who changed the game when he came on, scoring the equaliser, followed by the winner.
“Kenny was brilliant – every time he’s come on, he’s made an impact. Credit to him – he was fantastic.”
Merrick echoed his captain’s thoughts on the Costa Rican striker.
“He brings an energy to the forward line when he comes on. When he starts a game it’s not the same intensity and it’s good to know I’ve got him there. Every game he’s come on, he’s threatened.”
The Phoenix have now scored more goals (44), achieved more wins (14) and accumulated more points (46) than in any other A-League season.