The Wellington Phoenix players left Coopers Stadium on Saturday night feeling they had been kicked in the guts after conceding a 94th minute goal to go down 2-1 to Adelaide United.
Adelaide has never been a happy hunting ground for the New Zealanders, but they turned in a gutsy performance and would have thoroughly deserved the point they thought they had secured till Sergio Cirio’s late strike following a dubious free kick awarded by referee Strebe Delovski
Merrick acknowledged Adelaide were the better team on the night, but he was upset with the way he team lost a point they had strived to hold on to during the closing minutes when the home side were awarded a succession of soft free kicks.
“It was a cruel blow for the players because they worked very hard,” Merrick said.
“I don’t think we played well enough to win the game but thought a draw would have been a fair result.
“Unfortunately we didn’t grind it out and came up 30 seconds short.
“This is a tough place to come and play but considering we had eight players missing through international duty or injury I thought we did well.”
Wellington had taken the lead in the 15th minute through a well-taken goal by Roly Bonevacia following a sweeping move that started with a superb save by goalkeeper Glen Moss.
Nigel Boogaard equalised for the home side in the 37th minute, getting away from his marker to plant a header past Moss.
Both teams had chances to score in the second half but it was Adelaide who struck the final blow with seconds remaining.
Making the loss even more galling was the fact that Osama Malik, who “earned” the free kick that led to the winning goal, was lucky to still be on the field.
“I didn’t think it was a rough game but there were five yellow cards so he (Delovski) set a standard on yellow cards,” Merrick said.
“When Malik took a player out he got a yellow card in the 77th minute.
“He did exactly the same thing three minutes later and he got away with it. Why? Is it too tough to send him off? I couldn’t understand that.
“And he (Malik) was the one who finished up getting the free kick at the end when it was our player Sigmund who was actually pulled down.”
Merrick agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that the “bigger” teams tended to get more favourable decisions.
“I have discovered that since I’ve been at the Phoenix ,” said Merrick.
“When I was at the Victory, I found I had a better run (with referee decisions).
“I remember two fairly blatant penalty decisions that went against us near the end of last season.
“The referee director phoned me after both those games and said they were mistakes.
“I'm discovering it happens more at this club than my previous club.”
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Manny Muscat, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Josh Brindell-South, Albert Riera, Vince Lia, Alex Rodriguez (Kenny Cunningham 70m), Roly Bonevacia (Alex Rufer 78m), Roy Krishna, Nathan Burns (Matt Ridenton 73m).