Football 2 years ago

Phoenix look for new-season lift

  • Phoenix look for new-season lift

Even without goal-scoring machine Nathan Burns, Ernie Merrick believes this season's Wellington Phoenix squad is the strongest he's coached.

The Phoenix scored a club-high 45 goals in finishing fourth last season, with Burns slotting home 13 on the way to winning the Johnny Warren Medal for player of the season.

Burns has since moved on to FC Tokyo, but the rest of Merrick's squad has remained largely unchanged.

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Leading into Sunday's season-opener against Newcastle Jets in Wellington, Merrick is confident he has the players to improve on last season's effort.

"It's certainly the best Phoenix team I've had," he said.

"We're tracking much better this year - I feel as though we had our players signed fairly early and the squad understand the structure and the system.

The Phoenix have recruited judiciously in the off-season, ex-Ajax and NAC Breda product Jeffrey Sarpong their main acquisition as Merrick looks to transform an undoubtedly talented midfielder into a goal-scoring striker.

Former Sydney FC striker Blake Powell and ex-Sydney Olympic defender Troy Danaskos are Merrick's other two main signings, but the canny Scot isn't looking to make too many changes to last year's effective game plan.

"We've tweaked a couple of things at the back, and a slight change in formation in the back third," he said.

It's hard to see Merrick shifting from his favoured 4-3-3 formation, although the devil will be in the detail as to who goes wide to pick up overlapping fullbacks.

"We think we've got that right but you've not got it spot on until you're playing very intense A-league games."

Newcastle, with a new coach in Scott Miller and a rejunvenated squad, present a difficult first-up challenge.

New skipper Nigel Boogaard returns from Adelaide to bolster the defence, while Leonardo brings Brazilian flair up front and Serbian striker Milos Trifunovic adds height in the middle.

STATS THAT MATTER

* Wellington Phoenix have lost just one of their last 13 A-League home matches against Newcastle.

* There have been 23 goals scored in the last five A-League games between these two clubs (4.6 per game).

* The Jets won just three matches in 2014-15 and have mustered only 10 goals in their last 14 A-League away games.

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