Merrick bemoans penalty woes

Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick is demanding more from his strikers as the Hyundai A-League finals loom large.

Phoenix lost 2-1 to Sydney in Wellington in their last regular season game and will now host Melbourne City in an Elimination Final next weekend.

“I thought for the whole of the second half we had the vast majority of possession but we just didn’t have key strikers in goalscoring positions when it counted," Merrick said.

“In that deadly area in the penalty box we weren’t there when it counted. It’s a time when you need experienced strikers. Sometimes they’re a little bit overwhelmed when they haven’t got that experience and it’s easy to double-mark Nathan (Burns).

“Their assistant coach said we killed them in the second half. It’s easy to say that but if you don’t score goals you’re not going to win games or draw games.

“Sydney are a good team with some quality players. I thought we outplayed them. They scored a penalty and they caught us out from a corner-kick.

"Sure, they had some chances – that’s what happens in football – but we were camped in their half for most of the second half.

"There was a lot of good football but we’ve got to get strikers running into goalscoring positions.”

Phoenix’s goal came from a short corner routine early in the second half and supplied the first goal from a Phoenix corner all season. But Merrick bemoaned his side’s corners in general.

“We work non-stop on short corners and we scored from a short corner, but we’ve got two players – and one in particular – who just switches off and hits in the same old corner he’s always hit in," he said.

"I can’t quite work out why he keeps doing it, so I can guarantee he will never take another corner as long as I’m here because high corners are no good for us.”

Phoenix had the chance to take a 10th minute lead but Roly Bonevacia missed from the penalty spot, bringing to five the number of missed spot-kicks for Wellington this season.

“Once again someone took a penalty exactly the opposite to what we’ve been training and practising," he said.

"He was trying to be deceptive and put it in the corner and didn’t get it on target. Of course, the heads go down.

“Then we got a corner-kick and conceded a goal from it and then Albert gave them a penalty and they scored from theirs. We were 2-0 down at half-time but I didn’t feel like we were getting carved up at any time.”

Playoff games can be decided through penalty shoot-outs, but his side’s poor record from twelve yards left Merrick unperturbed.

“It’s Murphy’s Law – it probably will finish up like that and we’ll probably win!” he laughed.