A-League Preview: Phoenix staying grounded
Wellington Phoenix have emerged as a serious championship contender after stunning Melbourne Victory last week but coach Ernie Merrick insists finishing in the top four remains the number one priority for his team.
Phoenix host rivals Adelaide Untied on Saturday after coming from behind to beat Victory 3-2 for their first win over the dual A-League champions in Melbourne.
The Wellington outfit occupy fourth spot on 33 points (plus 12 goal difference), level with second-placed Victory (plus 15) and Adelaide (plus 13), who are both ahead on goal difference.
Perth Glory are only three points clear at the summit with eight games remaining before the finals.
Phoenix have never won the A-League before, reaching the finals on only three occasions, their last being in 2011-12.
Merrick, however, is firmly focused on helping Phoenix finish in the top four as his team prepare for Saturday's fixture in Lower Hutt.
"We haven't looked forward to the championship yet," Merrick said after the win at AAMI Park.
"It's just about playing consistent football. The focus is on playing in the finals and if we can, being in the top-four.
"That's what the players have set their objectives for - I'm not going to raise it any higher. Winning the championship is not in our mind at all."
The clash in New Zealand is followed by the blockbuster fixture between Victory and Glory at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Saturday.
Victory must pick themselves up after twice surrendering a lead against Wellington.
And they will do it without former captain Adrian Leijer, who departed for China during the week.
"Adrian is a Melbourne Victory man through and through and has shown great loyalty and service to our club over a long period of time," said coach Kevin Muscat.
Perth have problems of their own, having gone six matches without a win.
Though, Kenny Lowe will no doubt be boosted by last week's late 2-2 draw at home to reigning champions Brisbane Roar.
After three games on the road, Brisbane are back at Suncorp Stadium as they entertain Asian champions Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday.
Wanderers come into the 2014 Grand Final rematch on the back of a spirited 4-3 loss to Sydney FC in the Sydney derby last time out.
Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City are also in action in Gosford on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Sydney marquee Marc Janko will be looking to continue his rich vein of form when Graham Arnold's men travel to lowly Newcastle Jets on Friday.
Janko - leading the Golden Boot race with 12 goals - has scored in each of his past five matches