Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick believes smaller Hyundai A-League clubs are treated more harshly by referees compared to larger clubs after his side was downed 2-1 by Adelaide United following a contentious last-minute whistle on Saturday.
Clinging desperately to salvage a draw, the Phoenix were denied in the 94th minute when Sergio Cirio smartly sealed the match-winner.
The goal came after a dubious free kick was awarded to Reds stopper Osama Malik by referee Stebre Delovski, when in fact Malik appeared to impede Wellington’s Ben Sigmund.
Merrick was the inaugural coach of powerhouse Melbourne Victory, which has the largest membership base in the land, compared to Wellington, which has the smallest, and the veteran
Scottish-born manager has noticed a difference in the comparative referee treatment of the two.
“I have discovered that since I’ve been at the Phoenix it's pretty tough,” said Merrick, now in his second season in the New Zealand capital.
“When I was at the Victory, I found I had a better run (with referee decisions).
“I remember two fairly blatant penalty decisions near the end of last season.
“The referee director phoned me after both those games and said they were mistakes.
“I'm discovering it happens more at this club than my previous club.”
Further drawing Merrick’s ire was the fact the free kick recipient, Malik, was fortunate to still be in the game at that stage after being booked for a poor tackle in the 77th minute and following a few minutes later with a similarly poor challenge, which he got away with.
“I didn’t think it was a rough game but there were five yellow cards so he (referee Delovski) set a standard on yellow cards,” Merrick said.
“When Malik took a player out he got a yellow card in the 77th minute, the standard was set from early on … he did exactly the same thing three minutes later and he got away with it. “Why? Is it too tough to send him off? I couldn’t understand that.
“And he (Malik) was the one who finished up getting the free kick at the end when it was our player Sigmund who was actually pulled down.”
Despite copping the raw referee stick, Merrick acknowledged Adelaide were the better side but was delighted with the guts his under-manned outfit showed.
Wellington were without All-Whites quartet Michael McGlinchey, Jeremy Brockie, Michael Boxall and Tyler Boyd, who were on international duties in China.
“The better team was Adelaide,” Merrick said. “I think we did enough to get a draw out of it, so it was pretty cruel (losing) with 30 seconds to go.
“It's a cruel game. I know - I’ve been around for a long time.
The boys fought really hard. It was a gutsy performance.”