Soccer: Merrick moulds mindset

By Anendra Singh

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Ernie Merrick
Ernie Merrick

On the field of combat the First Post marked the inspection of troops each day and the Last Post signalled the end of battle at the end of a day.

On the field of contention in soccer, anyone who ever fancies themselves as an attacker knows the significance of the "far post".

The Wellington Phoenix can count themselves fortunate that the Western Sydney Wanderers didn't worship the far post with monotonous regularity in their 1-1 stalemate at Pirtek Stadium in Parramatta, Sydney, on Sunday night.

The hosts, who used right wing Youssouf Hershi to dismantle the Phoenix defence on the left flank with relative ease past Reece Caira, should have gone into halftime at least 3-0 up had left wing Mark Bridge picked up the far post.

The Ernie Merrick-coached Wellington initially appeared to be the Ricki Herbert franchise team of previous seasons as they sat back to let the opposition dictate terms.

They paid the price when German centre-mid Jerome Polenz scored from about 25m out, although Phoenix goalkeeper Glenn Moss appeared to be unsighted with No5 Michael Beauchamp in the way when the ball snuck underneath him for a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute following a cornerkick clearance.

"Actually we didn't intend to start with a defensive mindset," Merrick said yesterday, just before the Phoenix boarded their flight from Sydney.

If anything, the visitors were drowning in the sea of red fans who incredibly chanted and sang for the entire 94 minutes but ritualistically turned their backs on the game.

The Scottish coach reacted adroitly, substituting left wing Stein Huysegems, injecting Jason Hicks in the engine room in the 31st minute and, more purposefully perhaps, planting Paul Ifill on the wing to inject peripheral vision.

"Paul Ifill made a big difference and almost scored a goal himself," Merrick said, before the Phoenix historically host the Newcastle Jets at McLean Park, Napier, from 5pm on Sunday.

In the 58th minute, Wanderers keeper Ante Covic vented his spleen after making two heart-stopping saves following a Carlos Hernandez cornerkick, including the second attempt from Ifill at almost point-blank range.

Two minutes later, it was despair for Covic as Jeremy Brockie, sliding through past two defenders, finished off a deft cross from Ifill on the right flank for the equaliser in the 60th minute to momentarily stun the near-capacity crowd into silence.

Effectively, the Phoenix succeeded in adopting the Wanderers' style of play to turn the tide.

In the changing sheds at halftime, Merrick had impressed on his troops the urgency to create more opportunities on the right flank.

"We were losing it in the left flank and sitting back, letting them come at us so we were lucky not to be down by two to three goals at halftime."

He complimented his Beefeaters, captain Andrew Durante, fellow centreback Ben Sigmund, rightback Leo Bertos and keeper Moss before the second-half ascendancy.

Australian Caira, he said, was only 20 years old and learning.

"My track record shows with the Melbourne Victory that I encourage a more attacking style of play."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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