New Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick was proud of his players' efforts but disappointed not to get a point from their opening A-League match.
New Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick was proud of his players' efforts but disappointed not to get a point from their opening A-League match against the Brisbane Roar on Sunday.
The stoppage-time goal from Ivan Franjic was a cruel blow for Merrick and his team, who had battled hard at Westpac Stadium without key players Andrew Durante, Jeremy Brockie, Leo Bertos, Glen Moss (all on All Whites duty) and Louis Fenton (dislocated shoulder).
Half of the Phoenix's starting XI was on debut and it was revealed after the game that goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley had also struggled with a virus the previous day and couldn't train.
Yet despite all that, a strong first-half performance, sparked by the dominance of new signing Carlos Hernandez, Vince Lia and Manny Muscat in midfield, had the Roar on the back foot.
The pressure eventually brought a goal for striker Stein Huysegems.
But a half-time pep talk from Roar coach Mike Mulvey saw the visitors come out firing.
Besart Berisha, who had missed several chances in the first spell, scored within less than a minute of the restart.
Then gradually the Roar began to wear down the inexperienced and tiring Phoenix youngsters which eventually resulted in the last-gasp winner from Franjic.
"They (Brisbane) couldn't get out their half in the first 10-20 minutes and we should have taken more of an advantage on the score sheet," admitted Merrick.
"In the second half they scored early and they scored in the last minute. But in between we gave as much as we took but we were running out of legs, the youngsters in particular.
"The boys are still learning what it takes to grind out a result because we should have ground out a point today."
However, Merrick remained optimistic about the Phoenix's chances this season after promising debuts from Reece Caira and Kenny Cunningham.
Fellow debutants Luke Adams and Jason Hicks will also have benefitted from the experience, even though they struggled at times.
"I thought today was a very important descriptor of where we're going and where we're at," said Merrick.
"Given the possession we kept in midfield and how we played out the back and our clever balls, particularly from Carlos through to Stein and Kenny and young Jason Hicks, I just thought it showed we're definitely on the right track but we have to get better."