The Wellington Phoenix are still seeking their first A-League win of the season, but head coach Ernie Merrick was happy with the way his team played in a 1-1 draw with Perth Glory at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Phoenix got off to a great start with Andrew Durante giving them the lead in the fourth minute, but a 29th minute goal by Nagai earned the West Australian side a share of the points.
Both teams had chances in an exciting second half, which the Phoenix finished the stronger, but neither could break the deadlock.
The Phoenix had the best two chances but Ben Sigmund, who had been his team’s match-winner in a previous game in the Garden City, headed just wide of the upright, and second half substitute Jason Hicks blazed a great chance over the crossbar.
Merrick was delighted with the way his team began the game in front of 9600 fans, but disappointed they couldn’t press home their advantage with a second goal.
“That was a terrific start but we didn’t press ahead and seemed to take our foot off the accelerator,” Merrick said.
“I think there were some negative thoughts from last year swimming around at that point.
“After 15 or 20 minutes we started firing again but then gave a goal away.
“That first win is elusive but I’m happy with the way the boys played, especially in the second half.
“I didn’t want to die wondering so we went for it and I kept putting strikers on through the likes of Paul Ifill and Tyler Boyd, as well as putting Jason Hicks on in an attacking midfield role.”
Merrick again showed he wasn’t afraid to make substitutions by taking off Louis Fenton at halftime and moving Manny Muscat from midfield into the right back spot.
“Louis was paying the price of not playing for seven weeks through his dislocated shoulder so I had to make that change,” Merrick said.
“Albert (Viera) ran out of gas because he hasn’t played much at this level and Paul Ifill made a good contribution when he took over from Albert.”
Ifill was making his 100th appearance for the Phoenix and Merrick said he expected him to be making a challenge for a starting spot in the next few weeks.
“I’ve always been an admirer of Paul and if he keeps making an impact off the bench he will soon be back in the team,” Merrick said.
“It hasn’t been easy for Paul with some niggling injuries but he is coming right now and I’m expecting big things from him.”
With the club’s All Whites away in Mexico for New Zealand’s World Cup qualifying games the Phoenix don’t play next week.
“It gives us a weekend off and then we travel again to Sydney before getting back to Westpac Stadium,” he said.
Wellington Phoenix: Glen Moss, Louis Fenton (Jason Hicks 46m), Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Reece Caira, Manny Muscat, Vince Lia, Albert Viera (Paul Ifill 66m), Carlos Hernandez, Jeremy Christie, Stein Huysegems (Tyler Boyd 80m).