Wellington Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick was fulsome in his praise of Lower Hutt City after the Central League club held his team to a 3-3 draw in a training game at Porirua Park on Tuesday night.
The Phoenix needed a last-gasp penalty by Paul Ifill to salvage a draw, and Merrick said he felt for Lower Hutt conceding so late.
A headed goal by Stein Huysegems, his sixth in three games, gave the Phoenix a 1-0 lead at halftime in the 35 minutes each way game.
While the Phoenix led they were being tested throughout by the hard-working young Hutt side, and two goals in as many minutes early in the second spell from Nathaniel Hailemarian and Hamish Watson turned the game on its head.
Ifill got the Phoenix back on terms with a well-placed shot on the turn only for Kade Schrijvers to regain the lead for Hutt after Phoenix keeper Glen Moss spilled the ball under a challenge.
An upset looked certain till Ifill was felled in the box and the striker dusted himself down to slot the ball calmly into the corner of the net from the spot.
Merrick said he wanted his team to have a good work out and he got his wish.
“I wanted our third game to be another work out under fatigue because we have been training hard,” Merrick said.
“To their credit Lower Hutt should have won the game. They were up for it, pressed us hard and forced us into lots of mistakes.
“Our passing game deteriorated substantially and they capitalised on that. We drew 3-3 but to be fair Hutt should have won the game.
“We are backing up with another game in 48 hours at Petone, and we need to get used to getting pressed like that and still keep possession of the ball.
“If we don-t keep possession of the ball we are not going to continue to improve.”
The Phoenix included several young trialists in their side and made a number of changes in the second spell, while two of Hutt city-s stand out players, Tobias Bertsch and Hamish Watson, are trialling for the Phoenix and will have done their cause no harm.
“The good thing is we have scored 12 goals in three games but we have conceded goals that we shouldn-t have,” Merrick said.
“It is all about keeping possession and making forward passes and we didn-t do either.”