Ernie Merrick’s former Wellington Phoenix charge looks to spoil Ronny’s return

Ernie Merrick’s former Wellington Phoenix charge looks to spoil Ronny’s return


Nathan Burns is yet to score in his second stint with Wellington Phoenix, but he hopes it will all come together when he faces his former club and former manager. 

Nix striker Burns spent time at the Jets on loan in the 2013-14 season and more recently played under Ernie Merrick in his maiden campaign with the Nix.

The Scotsman brought Burns to New Zealand where he thrived, winning a Johnny Warren Medal and earning a move to Japan with FC Tokyo.

That season was a positive one for the Nix but this time around, their fortunes have been vastly different and find themselves rooted to the foot of the table.

And since returning, marksman Burns himself is yet to rediscover his best, goalless since January.

Though Burns’ situation – and indeed that of Wellington – is hardly ideal, he stressed he would be looking to start banking goals sooner rather than later.

“When I was here last time, it was a top two team sort of thing so this is a bit of a different scenario,” he said.

“We’re down the bottom, so for me I’m just going to work harder on keeping the fitness up and maybe working around the back defensively a lot more just to try and help us at the bottom.

“It’s a different scenario … I’m sure the goals will come.

“But we have a lot more other things to work (on) as a team and the goals will come towards the end.”

Following Darije Kalezic’s early departure from the head coach post, reserves boss Chris Greenacre returned to the top on an interim basis but lost his first match in charge against Western Sydney Wanderers 4-1.

One of Kalezic’s rare successes in his tenure was a defeat of Merrick’s Jets, a 3-2 success at McDonald Jones Stadium on 20 January.

While the Jets will be without a number of key men, including injured captain Nigel Boogaard, suspended hit man Roy O’Donovan and departed Andrew Nabbout, they will regain players.

Pato Rodriguez is likely to start the game, while marquee man Ronald Vargas will make a long-awaited return from an ankle injury that has been four moths in the making.

The Venezuelan will start the game on the bench, but Merrick warned to expect an equally confident Vargas.

“His vision and passing and the quality of his passing is so good that every time I bring him into a session, if it’s not working with the other players, I bring in Ronny and it works, especially that final delivery into the front third and the penalty box,” he told a media conference.

“I think he’s got all that and his legs feeling good. He’s doing extra training now because he knows he’ll only get a half or slightly less than a half.

“But we’re building him up for the finals and he’ll play more and more game time as we play over these games leading into the finals.

“He’s already got that (swagger) back, he’s a very confident player, he gets lots of touches on the ball.

“Sometimes I don’t coach some of the youngsters, I just say ‘look, watch Ronny and do that’ because he’s just such a good player.”

Newcastle could close the gap on Sydney FC to as few as five boys with a victory in Auckland, pending other results.