Wellington coach Ernie Merrick has praised his side's newfound character after overcoming an early deficit to secure a 1-1 draw with the Western Sydney.
Wellington coach Ernie Merrick has praised his side's newfound character after overcoming an early deficit to secure a 1-1 draw with the Western Sydney at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday.
The hosts were totally dominant in the opening 25 minutes and led 1-0 after an early Jerome Polenz strike, but the Phoenix rallied with a goal to Jeremy Brockie on the hour to steal a point.
"It (character) is something we've been talking about, they're well aware they finished at the bottom of the league last (season) and didn't do very well on the road at all," Merrick said.
"I thought they did well. Once we knocked the ball around with Carlos (Hernandez), Vince (Lia), Manny (Muscat) and Jason it made a huge difference to our team.
"It's about playing football and trying to stop the long ball playing out from the back and to their credit they were first class.
"Before you can improve with your feet, you've got to improve upstairs.
"I thought last week we should have ground out a draw and this week we did it, that's a big improvement regarding mental toughness."
The Scotsman admitted his side could have been three goals down after half an hour of sustained Wanderers dominance that saw Stein Huysegems substituted for midfielder Jason Hicks.
"He (Huysegems) did nothing wrong but I needed another midfielder," Merrick explained.
"We were getting beaten in midfield. If it hadn't been for Andrew (Durante), Ben (Sigmund) and Glenn (Moss) I think we would have been down a couple more goals.
"Jason made a big difference, once we started to get a grip of the midfield it changed and at half-time I was able to bring on Paul Ifill.
"I thought we could have stolen another goal but we're happy to go away with a draw."
The former Melbourne Victory coach admitted his players are still finding their feet after a lack of quality pre-season hit-outs.
"I've discovered a few new things about being with a club like the Phoenix, it's very hard to get pre-season games of quality," he said.
"Most teams had 13-15 good quality pre-season games, we had nine and really only five were good quality.
"I feel as though we're still five or six games still off of our best football. We had a lot of injuries coming into pre-season and they're all coming good now.
"It's not a work in progress, it's something we're going to have to improve every week."
Skipper Durante added of his side's gutsy display on the road: "It was difficult. We were just getting crucified out wide [in the first 25 minutes]. (Youssouf) Hersi was having a field day out there. It took us a while to get to grips with the game.
"We were much better in the second half, we got on the ball, we knocked the ball around. We created several chances. I think a draw's a pretty good result.
"I don't think anyone would have backed us to get anything. You look at all the pundits, the TAB had us at about seven bucks.
"No one's given us a chance and we've got a lot to prove this year so it was a good first-up performance on the road."