Merrick praises in-form Burns

Ernie Merrick could be sent broke by Nathan Burns’ hot streak in front of goal but the Wellington Phoenix boss won’t mind if the in-form forward can help the Kiwi club keep surging up the A-League ladder.

Burns scored a brilliant brace on Sunday as Phoenix announced themselves as a potential title contender with a hard-earned 2-0 win over Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium.

With Ange Postecoglou just days away from announcing his final squad for next month’s Asian Cup, Burns put his best foot forward with a scintillating second-half display and now has 10 goals for the season to lead the pack.

Given the 26-year-old’s impressive start to the season, Merrick has run out of superlatives for his striker but is delighted to finally have him in his side - even if it might hit him in the back pocket.

“I tried to sign him (Burns) a couple of times when I was at (Melbourne) Victory. I finally got him and I think I convinced him that I would turn him into a goal-scorer,” Merrick revealed.

“I said to him that I had a bit of a record and I hoped to improve on that. I said any player that scores three goals (in a game), I’m going to give them $100 out of my own pocket.

“So after he got two I decided to take him off. As he’s coming off he said ‘you’re saving your $100’ and I said ‘yes’.

“He’s a good lad, he’s been in the wilderness for a while and now he’s back in the national team and I think he’ll do a good job for Ange."

Merrick conceded his side rode their luck in the first half against the Sky Blues but lifted after the break and finished well on top.

Burns’ brace ensured back-to-back wins on the road for Phoenix – a big Achilles heel in the past – but Merrick refuses to say his side is now the real deal.

“Not yet. We talked about the fact that every time we play a team above us on ladder away from home we’ve got nothing from it,” the Phoenix boss said.

“Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne Victory so this was the day we had to turn it around.

“I didn’t feel today it was as much about skill and fitness, it was about confidence away from home and that confidence came through in the second half.”

While Burns was the match-winner for Phoenix, the performance of fellow new recruits Michael McGlinchey, Roly Bonevacia and Alex Rodriguez was also vital for the visitors.

“I’m very big on midfielders. To get Nathan Burns, Mike McGlinchey then the two foreigners with the quality of Bonevacia and Rodriguez, I thought our recruiting was best I’ve done in a long time,” Merrick said.

“Normally you sign five and two work out but they have just all clicked. They are all quick, very technical and that’s what we’re going to build this team on.”

Phoenix will enjoy their Christmas lunch in the knowledge they are up to fourth on the ladder ahead of a clash with lowly Western Sydney Wanderers next Sunday.