Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick expects rival clubs to throw everything at his side after they surged to the top of the Hyundai A-League for the first time.
The Phoenix will finish the round on the top of the table for the first time in their history after dethroning Perth Glory from pole position with a 2-1 win over Kenny Lowe’s side at nib Stadium on Saturday night.
Wellington (39 points) sits two points clear of Melbourne Victory and Glory, although Sydney (35 points) could sneak into second position with a win over Brisbane Roar on Sunday.
Merrick acknowledged the pressure will now be on his side to hold on to top spot with six rounds to play before the finals.
“It’s been said many times that it’s pretty tough getting to the top, but it’s even tougher staying there so teams will really be stepping up to play against us,” Merrick said.
“We’ve gone from being hunters to the hunted, but that’s all part of it and the boys will get used to it.”
Wellington was considered rank outsider to contest for the A-League championship at the start of the season and often find themselves billed as the underdogs in the weekly head-to-head markets.
The Phoenix were again much longer odds to win Saturday night’s match against Glory, but a Roy Krishna double helped Merrick’s side upstage their long distance rivals.
“I find it interesting for whoever does the odds for the betting because we’re not backed very often,” Merrick said.
“Very rarely have we been the favourites to win a game and now we’ve won 12 games, more than anyone else, six at home and six way, so we’re very consistent.
“I think we’re the second highest goal scorers (39) in the league and we’ve got the best defensive record (24 conceded), so we’re doing something right but the odds are always against us.”
Merrick will be able to call on star striker Nathan Burns and key midfielder Alex Rodriguez for next Sunday’s away clash with Brisbane after the pair missed the trip to Perth with minor injury concerns.
The Scottish-born coach praised the likes of Krishna, Rolieny Bonevacia, Joel Griffths and Michael McGlinchey for stepping up in the attacking duo’s absence and guiding the Phoenix to their third straight win against a title contender.
“I’m not big on this thing called momentum, but I am big on confidence and there’s no doubt that when you win games like that the confidence grows,” Merrick said.
“And when you’ve got confident players, you’ve got players that want the ball all the time and can really show what you can do.”