Newcastle coach Ernie Merrick may have earned another A-League foe after Wellington boss Mark Rudan labelled a critique of his side’s structure disrespectful on Thursday.
The Phoenix have started the season admirably, with a win, a draw and a loss positioning them mid-table ahead of Friday’s clash with Melbourne City. But Rudan’s defensive 5-2-3 system has still come under fire, with Merrick — himself a former boss of the Phoenix — doubting its merits when the side concedes an early goal.
“They had a lot of fight in them,” Merrick said following their opening-round 2-1 loss to Wellington last month. “The problem is, if you play like that when you’re down a goal, it makes life very difficult.
“You’ve got to change your whole mindset and play much more attacking football and commit forward.”
Merrick’s premonition came to life last weekend when Western Sydney went ahead early against Wellington and finished 3-0 winners.
Merrick is already engaged in a long-running stoush with Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat, with the pair blaming each other last weekend when asked after the match why they didn’t shake hands.
Rudan is still bugged by the critique and may now be in the queue with Muscat after labelling Merrick’s remarks disrespectful and lacking context.
“People are talking about us being a certain type of team … [but] everyone’s compact when they don’t have the ball,” Rudan said. “When you pass comment, make sure you have a look right across the board, not just us.
“It was a coach we’d just beaten [in the opening round], who’d been here for three years, and I thought that was somewhat disrespectful.”
Despite saying he wouldn’t pass comment on Merrick, Rudan couldn’t resist a cheeky dig at the man who took the Jets to within one win of last year’s title.
“I thought our tactics were much better than theirs [in round one], to be fair,” he said. “Perhaps if you were talking about a championship-winning coach [criticising you], then I’d say OK.”