Merrick: The referee was brave

Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has praised referee Stephen Lucas for his courage during his side’s 0-0 Hyundai A-League draw with league leaders Brisbane in Wellington.

Lucas awarded the visitors a penalty after half an hour of the contest, adjudging Wellington skipper Andrew Durante had handled as he attempted to clear a bouncing ball under pressure from Roar striker Henrique in the penalty area.

But after impassioned pleas from the Wellington players and discussions with his assistant, Lucas overturned the decision, ruling instead the Brazilian had pushed Durante in the back.

“It thought it was a really brave and good decision, and the right decision,” said Merrick.

“I thought it was terrific the referee went over to the linesman, spoke to him and made a decision that was the right decision. It’s just a pity we don’t get some more of that – the referee consulting his linesman so they can all have a think about it.”

“With a crucial decision like that, I thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t know if we’ll see it very often, but it was the right thing to do,” said Merrick.

The Scotsman will be the happier of the two coaches after being forced through injuries and suspensions to field an extremely raw starting line-up. Dylan Fox debuted in central defence, while fullbacks Troy Danaskos and Justin Gulley had played just nine A-League games between them.

“Under the circumstances that was an outstanding performance by our inexperienced squad,” said Merrick.

““The way Albert (Riera) and Vince (Lia) marshalled the midfield was terrific. It was always going to be hard attacking with the players we had, but Blake (Powell) did a great job, Michael McGlinchey worked relentlessly and Matt Ridenton was terrific on the left-hand side.”

“We could have stolen it at the end – we were a wee bit unlucky – but then they could have as well,” he said.

And Merrick reserved special praise for 21-year-old Fox who put in an encouraging performance on debut.

“He’s got all the qualities. He can really tackle. He’s almost like an old-fashioned British centre-back who wins the ball in the air and can put in a tackle. He’s got a big future with this club,” said Merrick.

The result leaves the Phoenix a point outside the top six after fourteen rounds, and they’ll welcome back midfielders Roly Bonevacia and Alex Rodriguez from suspension for next Sunday’s away clash with Newcastle.