Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has spoken of his side's changed mentality after overcoming Newcastle 3-2 to move into the top six on the Hyundai A-League ladder for the first time this season.
The Phoenix out-played the Jets away from home with youngster Jason Hicks scoring the winner after first-half strikes from veteran Carlos Hernandez and Stein Huysegems, to continue their charge up the table.
Merrick says the resurgent form is the result of a different attitude towards each game, particularly away from home.
"The mentality I am trying to instill in the boys is 'start off scoring goals and in the 93rd minute see if you can score another one'. And that is hitting home,' Merrick said.
“We had two shots and a mis-hit from Stein (Huysegens) from a cross right in front of goal in one minute 40. We had our first shot after just nine seconds.
“It has cost us. The first 10 rounds of the season we drew a few games that we should have probably won and lost a few games that we should have drawn.
“But if we get that mentality right we will score goals and cause problems for any team. The last six games I think we have scored 15 goals. And young Jason Hicks has been threatening to score and on he went and scored. So it is a good attitude.”
Merrick said the current mentality was a polar opposite to the way the team thought at the beginning of the season, but the change is starting to show dividends.
“When I first met the guys I said you are the nicest bunch of losers I have ever met, and now I am saying they are the nicest bunch of winners I have ever met,” joked the veteran coach.
“But the attitude towards attacking football away from home seems to have swung around 180 degrees from when we started round one.
“In the past eight games we have won six, draw one, lost one.
“Sometimes you have a mentality if it is nil-all or one-all you just hang in there as if a draw is enough.
“We played Sydney and we were 1-0 down and then we made it 1-all and there was eight minutes left and I said let's go for it and we lost 2-1, but I said don't change.
“Then it happened against the Wanderers, we were 1-0 down and then we leveled and went for it and scored two more goals. It is just a mentality really.”
Merrick said the fact that Phoenix were now in the top six was extremely motivating and will help feed the self-belief in the squad, especially as a mounting injury toll means inexperienced members of the squad will shoulder a lot of the responsibility.
“It is very significant because we said that these three games, last week against Adelaide, this week Newcastle and next week the Heart at home, are against teams on the same level as us, so it is almost like you are playing for double points,” he said.
“On top of that we have to use our depth – we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. To get those young boys to play in those conditions away from home and against a parochial crowd I thought they just did a fantastic job.
To see Matt Ridenton, a 17-year-old come on and do so well, and Tyler Boyd have another good performance and young Alex Ruffa, another 17-year-old, Jason Hicks, Josh Brindall-South, that was his first game, a 20-year-old.
"The young boys came in and did so well for us.”comments