Merrick keeps pushing the attacking mindset

By Daniel Richardson

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CONFIDENT: Andrew Durante can see his side improving.PHOTO/FILE
CONFIDENT: Andrew Durante can see his side improving.PHOTO/FILE

During the pre-season, the Wellington Phoenix made it clear that travel to Australia wasn't going to be an excuse for bad results this year.

In seasons gone by, Wellington have relied heavily on their ability to win at their Westpac Stadium fortress. Even a draw on the road was celebrated as an achievement.

But as visiting Australian sides started to win with regularity at the Cake Tin last summer, the Phoenix realised they had to buck up their ideas when they went across the ditch if they wanted to be competitive.

New Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick, who was finally given his first win in charge with last Sunday's 1-0 triumph over Sydney FC, stressed the importance of embracing the travel factor this season.

"I think we've changed the mindset of the players," Merrick said.

"Travel is a distraction and it's not an excuse for losing and we've got this approach where it doesn't matter if we are playing home or away, we are going to play attacking football.

Sometimes it will cost us, sometimes it won't.

"I'm driving it but the players have got to take ownership of that. In pre-season we had a couple of days where we talked about our values and our standards and what sort of trademark we are going to be recognised for and one is no complaints about travel.

"If you can't do it, don't turn up - just get on with winning games and giving everything for the fans that we have."

Granted the Phoenix are yet to win away from home this season but they've looked a different outfit to teams of seasons gone by who went away and were forced into their shells.

Wellington skipper Andrew Durante said Merrick's influence was starting to show through.

"I also think tactics have played a big part. I think in previous seasons we've gone into more of a defensive shape away from home but with Ernie we play pretty much the same way as we would at home or away. That gives the players the ability to press the ball going forward and gives us enough chances."

While this all sounds good in practice, Wellington have still never won an away game in Victoria.

In 15 games against the Melbourne Victory, or their cross-town rivals the Heart, the Phoenix have drawn five and lost 10 since 2007.

It's a terrible record, but they have a chance to atone - in a small way - when they meet the winless Heart at AAMI Park tonight.

"We know it's an important game, it's a great chance for us to get three points," Durante said. "They're low on confidence, there's a lot of internal problems from what I hear, so it's going to be difficult but it's a good chance for us."

Tyler Boyd will come into the Phoenix squad following the season-ending Achilles tendon injury to Paul Ifill.

The Heart will be without defender Patrick Kisnorbo after his red card last weekend.

Heart manager John Aloisi's job could be under threat if his side doesn't kick into gear at some point. They have a handful of quality players but are yet to click this season. APNZ

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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