Merrick: Phoenix loss a 'big step backwards'

Wellington Phoenix boss Ernie Merrick felt his side took “a step backwards” against Western Sydney Wanderers, admitting they got what they deserved in losing 2-1 on Saturday night.

Phoenix battled hard at Pirtek Stadium but were sunk from a set-piece five minutes from time by Mark Bridge’s clever strike.

"It wasn't really a surprise - we weren't playing very good football,” Merrick conceded afterwards.

“We normally control the midfield pretty well, I don't think we could hit a pass tonight.

“We were relying too much on a counter-attack, fast break and our quality of passing was poor. Too many players out of position, too many inexperienced players in the team.

“We should have ground out the draw I thought, but the better team was the Wanderers there was no doubt about that.

“I don't really take a lot of positives from that game…I thought it was a big step backwards from last week's game. And I've been pretty happy with the way the boys have been playing,” he added.

Merrick felt his side didn’t have the same energy as the Wanderers and felt his young players didn’t cope with the pressure the home side placed on them.

The visitor’s cause wasn’t helped by having to replace Ben Sigmund early in the second half, with the defender seemingly collapsing to the ground off the ball.

The Phoenix boss revealed Sigmund had battled a virus all week but Merrick said there was no way you would stop the Kiwi international from playing.

 "Ben is really a tough character, ex-rugby player. He would never admit to being under the weather. We had him checked out in the last couple of days,” Merrick said.

“Had we known we'd have made the change earlier but he's not going to admit it, and I quite like that about Ben. I wish more players were like that, really tough.

"We knew he had a virus, he said he was over a virus. Ben's Ben and he's played before with injuries.

“You always get the best out of him, he gives 100 per cent. But he got double vision and started fainting so he collapsed. And I think he had a head collision as well, so he's pretty tough.”

Merrick replaced ineffective striker Jeffery Sarpong with young midfielder Alex Rufer at half-time, admitting the Dutchman is struggling to settle to life in the Hyundai A-League.

“He's having trouble understanding the way we play,” Merrick said of Sarpong.

“He played his best game last week, and it was unlucky not to score - he hit the post and had another shot saved.

“But the high-energy games, he's just not quite with it. The striker's got to rely on service, knowing when to run and the timing of runs and direction”

Phoenix will stay in Sydney for the next week ahead of Thursday night’s clash with the Sky Blues at Allianz Stadium.

Merrick was hopeful of having injured duo Blake Powell (hamstring) and Vince Lia (calf) available for the clash, while Sigmund will be monitored.