A little dry Scottish humour from new coach Ernie Merrick couldn’t quite disguise his disappointment at Wellington Phoenix’s season-opening 2-1 loss to Brisbane Roar.


“The goals were off-side,” he said, walking into the post-match press conference at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.

“The referee was a nightmare, the linesman got it wrong every time.”

A more serious assessment of a sometimes scrappy, but often entertaining match followed.

Stein Huysegems’ 22nd-minute strike gave the Phoenix an early lead after they dominated the opening exchanges, but defensive lapses at either end of the second half gifted Brisbane the match with goals to Besart Berisha and Ivan Franjic.

Missing six front-line players to international duties and injury, the Phoenix struggled at times against the in-form Roar, but Merrick says there is still plenty to be positive about.

“I thought our midfield just ran the show in the first half – Brisbane couldn’t get out of their half for the first 10-20 minutes, and we should have taken more advantage on the score sheet,” he said

Vince Lia, Manny Muscat and Carlos Hernandez did all that was asked of them while young Jason Hicks worked hard in an unfamiliar role on the left and got forward well to support Huysegems.

Wellington’s inexperience at the back, stand-in skipper Ben Sigmund apart, proved costly. Luke Adams, Reece Caira and Michael Boxall struggled to contain Roar playmakers Thomas Broich, Berisha and Franjic and third-string goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley, struck down with a virus, was kept busy.

“In the second half, they scored in the first minute and they scored in the last minute. In between, we gave as much as we took but we were running out of legs,” Merrick said.

His focus remains not only on developing a more attacking style of football, but also on growing the undoubted young talent in the Phoenix ranks.

“With young players, you’ve got to give them a chance to develop and grow in the team,” he said.

“We’re assembling a squad, not a first 11. Today showed we’re definitely on the right track, but we have to get better.”