Five gone as Merrick makes changes at Phoenix

Five players - including foundation player Tony Lochhead - have not had their contracts renewed at Wellington Phoenix and have departed the club

Wellington Phoenix have released five players, as new coach Ernie Merrick begins to make his mark on the New Zealand-based A-League club.

Tony Lochhead, Alex Smith, Dani Sanchez, Jimmy Downey and Lucas Pantelis have all been told their time is up at the Phoenix, while Merrick has yet to make a decision on 23-year-old left-back Ian Hogg.

Sunday's decision brings Lochhead's long service with Wellington to an end with the 31-year-old defender finishing with 130 appearances for Phoenix - a club record.

Wellington general manager David Dome hailed the veteran's contribution to building the Phoenix, with defender Lochhead having been one of the club's inaugural players.

"Tony has been a fantastic servant for the Phoenix and the decision to let him go wasn't made lightly," Dome said.

"We have a new head coach [Merrick] coming in and he has definite ideas about the way the team will play and Tony didn't quite fit in with those plans.

"Throughout his time with the Phoenix, Tony has been the consummate professional and we thank him for his services over such a long period."

Lochhead played 23 matches for Wellington last season and has seemingly paid the price for the Phoenix's terrible defensive record in the 2012-13 campaign.

Wellington conceded 49 goals last season - more than any other A-League club - at an average of 1.8 per game.

Hogg, who joined Wellington on a short-term deal last season and played six matches, is seen as a potential replacement for Lochhead, and Merrick is willing to give him a chance to prove himself at training.

Midfielders Smith and Sanchez, who played 42 and 41 matches respectively for the Phoenix, have not been offered new contracts to make some import spots available for Merrick, while Downey and Pantelis have been moved on after injury-ravaged stints in New Zealand.

American Smith has already joined Victorian Premier League club Oakleigh and Spaniard Sanchez has been linked with Indian club Dempo SC, who are coached by Arthur Papas and have signed former Melbourne Heart captain Simon Colosimo.

Downey played just seven games, while Pantelis never made an A-League appearance for Wellington due to a serious knee injury.

Wellington have 15 players signed for next season, including ex-Melbourne Victory midfielder Carlos Hernandez, meaning Merrick has up to eight spots to fill in his squad.

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