Phoenix look for midfield control
New Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick says Sunday's A-League match against Brisbane Roar will be won or lost in the midfield.
Looking to finalise a makeshift team ahead of his team's season opener at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, Merrick says the match will hinge on whether the Phoenix can keep the Roar's creative midfielders under wraps.
"If we allow Brisbane to take control and get their passing going in the middle, they're going to cut up our back four," he said.
"It really is how we shut down the midfield and create our chances from winning the ball in the middle."
The Phoenix are missing All Whites Jeremy Brockie, Leo Bertos, Andrew Durante and Glen Moss to international duty, while right back Louis Fenton (shoulder) and keeper Lewis Italiano (ankle) are out with injury.
Young midfielder Alex Rufer is also away with the New Zealand team at the under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
The Phoenix are still bedding in a new attacking combination, but new striker Kenny Cunningham, former A-League MVP Carlos Hernandez and the always-creative Paul Ifill have all shaken off pre-season niggles and look set to start.
It's at the back that Merrick is still undecided.
Captain for the day Ben Sigmund and Michael Boxall are the two centrebacks, Reece Caira will start at left back, but a decision is still pending on right back.
New Zealand under-20 captain Luke Adams is one option, with Manny Muscat another possibility if new signing Albert Riera comes into the midfield.
Roar coach Mike Mulvey is also mulling over a range of midfield options to partner Perth Glory recruit Liam Miller and Luke Brattan in the absence of Socceroo Matt McKay.
Defender Jade North, the ever-dangerous Thomas Broich, youngster Devante Clut or Ivan Franjic are all possibilities.
"I'm pretty set in my mind what we're going to do, but we'll reveal that on Sunday," he said.
Mulvey looks set to resist the temptation to fast track Brazilian dynamo Henrique back into the starting line-up, although he admits the prospect is tempting.
"The expectancy could be that we push him - we're not going to do that. He'll travel with us to New Zealand, but he'll be on the bench.
"He's worked very hard in the off-season and came back in great shape. I see that he's more dangerous in the central position because he can go right or left, he can come deep or he can go high."