WELLINGTON Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick rued his side's slow start but praised their fight and determination to come back from 3-0 down to suffer a narrow 3-2 defeat.
Victory raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first-half at Etihad Stadium on Monday night before Jeremy Brockie pulled one back before half-time to make it 3-1 going in to the break.
Despite dominating the first period, Victory were far from their best in the second-half and allowed Wellington Phoenix back in to the game.
Substitute Paul Ifill brought the scores back to 3-2 to ensure a nervy finish for new Victory boss Kevin Muscat, but his side managed to hold on to win their second game of the season.
Merrick, making his return to Melbourne as a coach since being sacked at Victory in 2011, blamed the slow start and a high-line on the defeat.
“The last couple of games we’ve been starting off rather slowly and we’ve been working at it in training to make sure we’re straight in it from the kick-off,” said Merrick. “But it didn’t work that way.
“We were playing a very high line in defense but mind you the two fullbacks that we’re using now are new to the position.
“That’s Louis (Fenton's) first game this year, he’s normally a winger but he’ll be a very good fullback for us in the future.
“On the left side Reece Caira has played midfield predominantly and at leftback he’s just progressing as well.
“We played an incredibly high line that Victory caught us out with, and Victory are a very slick outfit.
“There was some great inter-passing in their front line. They certainly deserved to be ahead in the first half but we nearly got that equaliser at the end.
“The plan wasn’t actually to play a high line, the plan was, when we had the ball, to push up to the front-half and as they received the ball, drop off.
“We did that well and we spoke about it at half time and we did that.
“That’s when our midfield started to get in to the game and there was some great inter-passing between Manny Muscat and another youngster called Jason Hicks when he came on and Vince Lia, Carlos Hernandez. That’s when we started creating chances upfront.”
Merrick took over from Ricki Herbert in the off-season and has brought a fresh new approach to the club as they look to re-build.
“If you want to build a team, you’ve got to start somewhere,” said Merrick. “We’ve changed over our 22 players and we’ve got 10 new players, the majority of them are 20 or younger.
“Phoenix are about building a club, we’re not going to throw money at expensive players.
“The club is building but we’re not going to use that as an excuse when we lose.”
Merrick will be without a number of his stars in the coming weeks due to New Zealand taking on Mexico in the World Cup play-offs, but he says it is all part of the job.
“I was well aware that two issues the Phoenix coach has to deal with are the travel schedule and the fact that the FIFA weekends aren’t respected” he said.
“We don’t complain about it, we just move on. The boys have never complained, we’ve got tremendous culture at the club.
“The character that the team demonstrated in the last 20 minutes of that game, we were fighting very strongly for the equaliser.”