WELLINGTON coach Ernie Merrick insisted his team would arrive in Newcastle this week full of confidence after their hard-fought scoreless draw with A-League leaders Brisbane at WestpacStadium on Sunday.
Like Newcastle, who they play at Hunter Stadium on Sunday, goals have been few and far between for the Phoenix in recent weeks.But their two goals in the past four games seemlike a glut compared to the559 minutes, or six games, since the Jets last put one in the net.
On Sunday, the seventh-placed Phoenix will be aiming not only to increase their three-point lead over Newcastle on the competition table, but also to delete an unwanted record that belongs to their now-defunct countrymen, the New Zealand Knights.
The ill-fated Auckland-based franchise remains the benchmark for time between goals, a 606-minute hiatus during season two of the A-League.
Newcastle will surpass that if they do not score in the first 47 minutes on Sunday.
The scoreboard might say otherwise, but Merrick declared there was plenty to like about his team’s performance against Brisbane, especially in the absence of leading scorer Roy Krishna (knee).
“Under the circumstances, that was an outstanding performance by our inexperienced squad,” Merricksaid after Sunday’s game.
“I really thought that was a big effort and it’s something special for the club.”
With Manny Muscat (suspension) and Ben Sigmund (injury) missing from Wellington’s defensive line, skipper Andrew Durante led by example andcentral defender Dylan Foxwas man of the match on his A-League debut.
“The back four, other than Dura, had nine A-League games to their credit,” Merrick said, pointing in particular to 21-year-old Fox.”He’s got all the qualities –he’s almost like an old-fashioned British centreback that wins the ball in the air, and he can put in a tackle.There’s no doubt he’s got a big future with this club.”
Wellington will be boosted by the return this week of Alex Rodriguez and Roly Bonevacia fromone-game suspensions.
“We’ve got Rodriguez and Bonevaciabacksoit meansa bit more attacking power in Bonevacia, certainly,’’ Merrick. “And it means that as we get more and more players back we’re going to be pretty strong in the second half of the season.”
Hunter Stadium will hold few fears for the Phoenix. Their 54.5 per centwinningstrike rate in Newcastle is their best at any rival ground.
BOOST: Wellington’s Roly Bonevacia, pictured battling with Newcastle’s David Carney in round one, returns from suspension this week. Picture: Getty Images