Ernie Merrick says he was "blatantly honest" with his Wellington team about where their A-League aspirations stand following an underwhelming 2-1 loss to Western Sydney.
Usually a positive-thinking coach, Merrick warned the Phoenix must lift their game at Allianz Stadium on Thursday night or be outplayed again, this time by a frustrated Sydney FC outfit yearning to get their title push back on track.
The manager was highly critical of every aspect of Wellington's game on Saturday, putting the defeat down to costly defensive errors, rushed passing and a lack of midfield structure.
"I just let them know I was really disappointed in the performance for 90 minutes, which is the first this year," Merrick told AAP.
"I've been happy with a lot of the other performances ... they showed what they can do last week against Adelaide so we know what we're capable of.
"We've just got to be more consistent. But sometimes you've just got to say 'Look, this is exactly how it happened'.
"We're looking forward to the next game and how we're going to make it better, because if you're going to learn a lesson from that game and benefit from that type of game against Wanderers you've got to be blatantly honest and say `These are the things we need to work on'."
Playmaker Michael McGlinchey put Merrick's displeasure down to the New Zealand-based outfit's sense of purpose and high expectation this campaign.
"The standards we set ourselves, he's not happy," said McGlinchey, who is back to full training after last week's lighter load on return from international duty.
"It wasn't too bad, but I think we've set ourselves pretty high standards this season.
"We want to stay in that top little cluster (on the table) and we want to get up into the top-three positions.
"A win this week would definitely put us up there. We can play good enough to do that."
Having played under Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold during his time at Central Coast, McGlinchey was expecting danger.
"Graham Arnold's teams are always the same - very compact, very strong in defence, but they've also got that quality in the final third," he said.
"They can turn it on at any time, so we'll be very cautious of them."
Defender Ben Sigmund is back in New Zealand and has been ruled out of the match with likely concussion.
Midfielder Vince Lia is expected to play in his place in his first match back in nearly a month since tearing his hamstring.