Football: Merrick sympathises with Sydney coach

Ernie Merrick. Photo / Getty Images.
Ernie Merrick. Photo / Getty Images.

Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick sympathises with the plight of his Sydney FC counterpart Graham Arnold and is tipping the struggling Sky Blues to make the A-League finals.

Phoenix beat Sydney 3-1 at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night to stretch the seventh-placed harbour city club's run without a win to eight matches.

Arnold's side trail sixth-placed Melbourne Victory by three points with four rounds remaining, with Perth moving up to fifth another point further ahead following a 4-0 home rout of Central Coast on Saturday.

Compounding their defeat, Sydney lost Serbian playmaker Milos Ninkovic for the rest of the season with an ankle injury.

Veteran David Carney and youngster Rhyan Grant also suffered injuries which ruled them out of the squad leaving on Sunday morning for Wednesday's Asian Champions League game away to South Korean side Pohang Steelers.

Merrick knows only too well how difficult it is to juggle domestic and ACL commitments having done so while at Melbourne Victory, where he won two A-League titles.

"I have to say I've got a lot of sympathy for Graham Arnold and his team because I remember when I had to play Champions League at the same time as the run in to the finals, or in the finals, and it's very very tough on the players," Merrick said.

"I think Sydney is a good team, Graham is doing a good job and I think they will be in the finals. It's just a very tough phase they are going through."

Arnold was sanguine about the task of trying to deal with the demands of a packed schedule.

"We've been talking (for) seven, eight years about how hard it is, how heavy it is and we ask FFA for some help with the programming and scheduling," Arnold said.

"We go away, we play on Wednesday in Korea, we get back Friday lunchtime to play the Mariners Saturday. That's the way it is.

"When I look back on the history of it, that I've been involved with when I was at the Mariners, we were 11 points clear on top when the Champions League started and we ended up having to win the last game in Wellington to win the premiership, and we did.

"This time we were coming fourth, four points off the top of the league when we started and I think we've had six games in 20 days.

"But they are the cards you are dealt with, you've just got to get on with it. The players have to show, and we all have to show, more character."

-AAP

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