Ernie Merrick is struggling to find any positives after watching his side lose 4-0 to new Hyundai A-League-leaders Adelaide United at Westpac Stadium.
MATCH REPORT: Reds reach summit after putting four past Phoenix
The Wellington Phoenix mentor cut a dejected figure as he struggled to explain a sub-par performance from his charges.
“I thought we played well in the first half,” he said.
“We had lots of possession and were in their half most of the time. Through very slack marking we conceded and (then) their second goal was (from) our free-kick, a very poor delivery and they caught us on the break. The stats show they had two shots on target in the first half and both of them were goals, so they were fairly clinical.”
“The third goal really killed us. After that I was really disappointed. A lot of our boys put their heads down. There wasn’t a lot of talk out there and there wasn’t a lot of grunt.”
Merrick also bemoaned a lack of quality in the front third, not for the first time this season.
“In the 18-yard box we don’t seem to have sharp people. We didn’t have enough people who were determined to score a goal for this club. That was the biggest concern for me.”
Merrick hinted that retiring defender Ben Sigmund may now take a key role as the Phoenix play for pride in their final five games of the season.
“We really missed (him) tonight. Ben is a presence. He commands respect and makes midfielders and fullbacks do their jobs. He’s a real winner and we lacked that tonight big-time. Our lack of a winning mentality was our biggest (problem) tonight.”
With their finals hopes now extinguished, motivation for some Phoenix players switches to impressing their coach in the hope of securing contract extensions. Only ten are signed beyond the end of this current A-League season. But Merrick doesn’t want his players to be motivated by fear.
“I don’t think that’s what they should be playing for. I think they should be playing to play good quality football and to score lots of goals in front of their fans.”
“I think they should play with a lot more pride,” he said.
And Merrick paid tribute to the visitors who notched up a club-record fourteenth straight unbeaten game.
“Credit to Adelaide – they lost one of their best players early on in Tarek Elrich, they’ve come without Isaias, they’re a long way from home and yet they played so well and finished so well. They’ll do well in the finals I think,” said Merrick.
The Phoenix face Sydney FC away next Saturday night.