Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has pinpointed his midfield as the major area for improvement after his side suffered just their second home loss of the season.
The Phoenix were beaten 3-0 by Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium to snap a four-game winning streak.
MATCH REPORT: Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC
“We really couldn’t get our midfield game going” said Merrick.
“We had more passes than them but it wasn’t in the front half. They played two banks of four which made it very difficult for us to get between the lines. We kept giving the ball away and they would counter-attack from there. We battled today to get into goal-scoring positions.”
“I just don’t think we really got playing today. We were giving away the ball far too much, not getting in behind them often enough and where we normally get the ball in between the lines to set up our strikers, we just didn’t have that today.”
Without key attackers Nathan Burns and Michael McGlinchey through international commitments, the Phoenix struggled to create goalscoring opportunities, fashioning just three shots on target. But Merrick stopped short of using their absence as an excuse.
“They’re two very, very good players. But I think that’s too simplified. I think Roy had periods of good play. I was really happy with Joel Griffiths. Alex and Roly just didn’t have enough space to operate in, but at times they showed what they can do.”
“We got very little out of our fullbacks going forward; Manny didn’t get forward and neither did Matt Ridenton often enough, but you can’t get forward if your midfield isn’t controlling possession. It keeps coming down to midfield and controlling possession in the opposition half. That’s generally what we‘re very good at and we didn’t do it today.”
And the amiable Scot was far from downcast after watching Sydney FC extend their away record to eleven games unbeaten and move to within one point of his own side at the top of the A-League ladder.
“We’ve been playing great football. We don’t lose many games. We’ve won more games than any team in the league and we’re still top of the league. I think you put it in perspective and say that’s a real learning experience.”
“It’s best having that now while we’re still top of the league than having it in the finals. And the good thing is we get to play them again in the last game of the (regular) season so we can see how much we’ve improved.”
The Phoenix next host second-placed Melbourne Victory on Easter Sunday.