March 08, 2015 11:33:54 UK
Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick is still playing down his side’s premiership ambitions, despite seeing them beat Adelaide United 2-0 in Lower Hutt.
The Phoenix have been transformed this season from one that only avoided the wooden spoon on goal difference in Merrick’s first campaign a year ago, into genuine contenders for silverware.
I’m really just looking to distance ourselves from seventh spot.
It may have only been for a couple of hours on Saturday, but the New Zealanders claimed top spot in the A-League with late goals from Joel Griffiths and Nathan Burns.
Perth Glory’s draw away to Melbourne Victory put Kenny Lowe’s side back in pole position by a single point later on.
The Phoenix, though, have won more games (11) than any other team in the league and have a better goal difference than Perth who have not won in seven matches.
The Phoenix are 3.10 to beat the Glory in their next match, with Perth 2.30 and the draw 3.30.
Wellington have never finished any higher than fourth in the table, and Merrick insists a top-four placing – which would secure a home final – remains the summit of their ambitions for now.
“I’m really just looking to distance ourselves from seventh spot,” said the coach. “The greater distance that we are away from the seventh team in the league, the more chance we have of being in the finals.
“I just want to get in the finals. Obviously if it’s a top-four finish, it’s better.”
The victory took the Phoenix 14 points clear of seventh-placed Brisbane Roar, albeit having played three more games.
Former Socceroos striker Joel Griffiths netted his first goal since signing a short-term deal with Wellington, his close-range finish 11 minutes from time being crucial in a match with few chances.
Merrick, who has brought the ex-Newcastle player off the bench with 30 minutes left in both the last two games, said: “He just knows where to be when it counts; that’s why he’s got a tremendous goal-scoring reputation. He gets stuck in, nothing holds him back; I really like that sort of attitude.”
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