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Absent Merrick looms large for Phoenix

AAP logoAAP 9/12/2016 Cathy Walshe

Coach Ernie Merrick might be gone, but his influence is looming large as Wellington Phoenix prepare for their A-League clash against Central Coast in Hamilton.

Merrick's resignation on Monday hit the Phoenix hard, with skipper Andrew Durante saying the players had let the popular coach down.

Wellington have won only two of their eight games, scoring just six goals in the process, and sit bottom of the table as they prepare to face the Mariners on Saturday night.

Assistant coach Chris Greenacre and goalkeeping coach Des Buckingham have stepped up to guide the team until a new coach is appointed before Christmas.

Greenacre, who also ran the team for five matches after Ricki Herbert resigned in 2012, says he and Buckingham have had the perfect mentor in Merrick.

"It's been a tough week but the blueprint Ernie's left behind at the club will be going for years and it's going to be coming from there," he said.

"We've all had a part to play and we all feel we've let him down, so it's important we get back on track against the Mariners."

Wellington will have confidence from their 2-0 victory over the Mariners in Canberra a month ago, with the boost that the win came when they were missing five of their All Whites on international duty.

However, they slipped back in losing 2-0 away to Adelaide last week, while the seventh-placed Mariners were outplayed 4-1 by Western Sydney Wanderers.

Defender Tom Doyle is poised to return from a stubborn hamstring injury to bolster the back four, but it's in the attacking third that the Phoenix have been lacking.

Fijian striker Roy Krishna has impressed with five goals, but Hamish Watson is the only other player to find the net.

Durante says that's something Wellington are hoping to address on Saturday.

"There's been a real emphasis on scoring goals, getting more people into the box, and hopefully that bears fruit," he said.

"It's a tight - you win a couple of games and you're in the right areas. We know we've got a good run of games coming up, so its a good time for us to start climbing the ladder."

STATS THAT MATTER

* Wellington Phoenix has lost only two of their last nine games against the Mariners (W4, D3) in the Hyundai A-League, scoring in every one of those matches.

* Central Coast Mariners are undefeated in their last three Hyundai A-League games on the road. They last went four without defeat away in the final two months of 2014.

* Phoenix has conceded only 57 per cent of their goals from open play this Hyundai A-League campaign, the fewest of any team.

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