Low-key start for Wellington Phoenix coach

June 11, 2013
By Cathy Walshe

New coach Ernie Merrick's reign at Wellington Phoenix began on a low-key note as he put 10 of his A-League squad through their paces under grey skies and drizzle at Newtown Park on Wednesday.

Just three days after shedding five of the Phoenix's off-contract players, Merrick watched as the backbone of his team ran strongly in their first off-season training session.

Merrick replaced long-serving coach Ricki Herbert after the Phoenix finished bottom of the A-League ladder last season with seven wins from 27 games.

The former Melbourne Victory coach was happy with his first hit-out, saying it was a chance to have a look at some key players and focus on basic techniques.

The back line, marshalled by skipper Andrew Durante, came under scrutiny, and Merrick also looked further upfield in working with Paul Ifill, Stein Huysegems, Vince Lia and Leo Bertos.

"We're looking at defensively how far back we're going to drop, how high we're going to take risks with the offside line," Merrick said.

"And with the attacking players, we're looking at giving them a lot more freedom."

New signing Carlos Hernandez isn't due in Wellington for at least another week, while top scorer Jeremy Brockie is on loan to Ryan Nelsen's Toronto FC.

In the meantime, Merrick is continuing to work on player recruitment, and says he's keeping an open mind when it comes to filling his two remaining import positions.

"People think South America, Central America and Europe, but I've spent nearly a year in Asia and there's a lot of talent there," he said.

The Scotland-born Merrick has highlighted two crucial roles he's looking to fill at striker and in the midfield, although he admits neither will necessarily be an import.

"I've never relied on always having to have a European-type player: we forget the standard in New Zealand and Australia is very good.

"My first three recruits were Australians - Kevin Muscat, Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson.

"We'll certainly cast the net wide and we won't restrict in any of those position, but you would think it would good to keep options open for a foreigner for those two key roles."