Jacob Tratt of the Phoenix (right) is challenged by Brandon O'Neill of Sydney FC.
Jacob Tratt of the Phoenix (right) is challenged by Brandon O'Neill of Sydney FC. ROSS SETFORD

Top four still in reach for winless Phoenix, says Merrick

WELLINGTON coach Ernie Merrick is adamant the Phoenix are still contenders in the A-League, despite four straight defeats to start the 2016-17 campaign, most recently a 6-1 hiding at the hands of Melbourne Victory on Monday night.

"I think this side has still got the depth to contend for the top four,” said Merrick upon the team's arrival back into Wellington.

"I think it's sorting out the defence first and foremost and getting our best players on the park.”

"Since day one we've tried to get our backline together and get it organised. Our best backline is Tom Doyle, Andrew Durante, Marco Rossi and Jacob Tratt, with Vince (Lia) in front of them, and we've only been able to do that once, for half a game. That's a major problem.”

"You can't play good attacking football without a rock-solid defence. Getting that defence right is so important. We've been patching up the full-back position quite a bit but I think we've got good depth and good players and we're a top-four team still.”

Centre-back Rossi (thigh strain) and left-back Doyle (hamstring) missed the loss to Melbourne, but Merrick was hopeful both would be available to face Newcastle at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.

The Phoenix mentor isn't hiding from his side's poor start to the season or his part in turning things around.

"I take full responsibility,” he declared.

"I think the players we've got available are doing the best they can, so it's my responsibility.

"I think I can do a lot more. I've never actually got the best side out for the full 90 minutes yet. My job is to try to get the best team on the park for 90 minutes.”

An inability to score goals, despite an impressive attacking roster, has been the source of both surprise and frustration in the first month of the season. Roy Krishna's penalty on Monday night was the Phoenix's first goal of the new campaign and came after five-and-a-half hours of goalless endeavour.

"We've got to score goals. We scored goals pre-season and played against some of the better teams pre-season. I think we've got good-quality players who will score goals, but you've got to have good midfield play and I don't think we strung our midfield play together very well (against Melbourne).”

Merrick is using the round-three clash with Sydney FC as the blueprint for what his team is capable of. The Phoenix dominated the game for large periods before being hit with an injury-time sucker punch to lose 1-0.

"I know we didn't score goals, but we played a team who are top of the league off the park, with nothing to show for it. I think that's a glimpse of what we can do,” Merrick said.

"It was the first time I had everyone together and we had a full week of preparation and we showed that we can create a lot of chances.”

For probably the first time in Merrick's three-year tenure as Wellington coach, his position is coming under increased scrutiny, but the amiable Scot was in no mood to discuss job security.

"That's not a question I can answer. It's not for me to be concerned about. This is coaching; you know how it is,” he said.

And Merrick is urging Phoenix fans to keep faith in his side.

"I hope they see what we can do and they got a glimpse of it against Sydney.”


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