March 18, 2015 12:34:41 UK
He might not like talking about championships, but Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick will at least admit the club’s expectations have increased after they hit top spot in the A-League.
The Scotsman stands to become the first coach to win Grand Finals with two different clubs if he can guide Wellington to their maiden championship in May.
He has already accomplished a first with the club, with last weekend’s away win against Perth Glory seeing them top the table for the first time in their eight-year history.
There are still six games to go and the New Zealand side, who are 5.00 to win the Grand Final, are not getting carried away with their success as the league table is so tight this year.
Only three points separate the Phoenix from fifth-placed Adelaide United, and the Premiership race could come down to goal difference. That may favour third-placed Melbourne Victory, who lead the way on plus-18 and also have a game in hand on their rivals.
Merrick, who won two titles as coach of the Victory, feels the biggest obstacle to his current side winning silverware could be injuries.
For much of the campaign, the most the coach has talked of the club’s ambitions is to say he hoped to secure a top-six spot. That has now changed, at least a little.
“Phoenix have the potential to do well in the finals,” he said. “But we don’t have the necessary depth yet to perform when two or three key players are out,” said Merrick.
He added: “I don’t think about championships. I enjoy what I do and I have lots of energy and a very positive approach to life.”
Wellington owe much of their success this season to leading scorer Nathan Burns, and the fact that they turned down two bids for the striker from Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua in January.
Burns says he’s open to a new challenge next season but is focused on helping the Phoenix to success before then.
“Right now I’m focused on finals football,” said the 12-goal striker. “We’ll see what happens next season. If something changes, we’ll go from there and if not, I’m quite happy.”
Wellington are 3.75 to win their next game against Brisbane Roar, who are 2.00 with the draw 3.40.
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