First it was the Busby Babes, then Fergies Fledglings and last night in Blacktown, on the other side of the world, Australia got its first look at Merrick’s Minors.
First it was the Busby Babes, then Fergies Fledglings and last night in Blacktown, on the other side of the world, Australia got its first look at Merrick-s Minors.
With a squad that included seven players aged 20 and under, the Wellington Phoenix took the game to last season-s A-League Premiers Western Sydney Wanderers before going down 2-1 after conceding two goals in the last five minutes.
Despite being without the injured Andrew Durante, Paul Ifill and Leo Bertos, along with on-loan Jeremy Brockie and still-to-arrive Kenny Cunningham, the Phoenix took the game to the Wanderers and only succumbed in the dying stages.
Amazingly, almost the entire first 20 minutes were played in the hosts half with only four good saves by Wanderers keeper Jerrad Tyson keeping his team in the game.
While it was an entertaining match, the good-sized crowd had to wait 80 minutes for a goal and it came from Louis Fenton after good work by Stein Huysegems and pint-sized 18-year-old trialist Joel Stevens.
The setback spurred the home side on and they sent their fans home happy thanks to two headed goals from Brendon Santalab.
Whether those goals would have been scored had Durante and Ben Sigmund, who was substituted after an hour, been on the field is a moot point, but it was cruel on an impressive Phoenix side.
Ironically Merrick has stressed throughout pre-season training that most goals are scored in the final 10 minutes of games, but even unfortunately being proved right didn-t dampen his enthusiasm for what he saw.
“The result is important and it was disappointing to lose it so late, but almost as important was the way we played the game,” Merrick said.
“The performance showed we have learnt something from the pre-season and that we are committed to playing an attacking brand of football.
“We kept possession and looked forward rather than lose the ball and bypass the midfield. I thought they did that very well.
“Considering we had so many players out the youngsters - and they were all on in the second half - did a great job.
“That is the future of the club and tonight was a real yardstick.
“We were playing a good Wanderers side that were in the grand final, and we matched them till those final five minutes.
“The back four and midfield were rock solid and we made them look to long balls and diagonals because they couldn-t play through us in the first half.
“We were the ones playing the football through the middle.
“Unfortunately we didn-t take our chances but worked their keeper and he did well to keep out shots from Stein, Carlos Hernandez, Alex Rufer and Hamish Watson.
“All in all it was a performance that topped off the first half of our pre-season.”
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Louis Fenton, Michael Boxall, Ben Sigmund (Luke Adams 55m), Reece Caira, Vince Lia (Matt Thompson 65m), Manny Muscat (Ridenton 75m), Carlos Hernandez (Justin Gulley 45m), Alex Rufer (Tobias Bertsch 55m), Hamish Watson (Joel Stevens 45m), Stein Huysegems.