COACH Ernie Merrick would love the Newcastle Jets to be at full tilt for the top-of-the-table blockbuster against leaders Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday.
That scenario appears more likely for their third encounter against the champions at home on March 3 when Roy O’Donovan and Ronny Vargas and new arrivals Patricio Rodriguez and Riley McGree are on deck.
Indeed, the Jets will be without six potential starters when they travel down the F3.
Regardless, Merrick won’t change his approach against a Sky Blues outfit fresh from a 6-0 mauling of Perth Glory.
“The worst thing we could do now is change everything and play defensive football and counter attack,” Merrick said. “If you want to learn how to play good football, you want to play against good teams. Sydney are the best team in the league by a long shot. Victory has every bit as good a team on paper. Both have experienced quality players. I don’t think it is a bad thing to play two tough games like this in a row. We need to learn how to cope with that sort of pressure.”
Nigel Boogaard (concussion) is the latest addition to the casualty ward after receiving an accidental elbow to the temple in the 2-1 loss to Melbourne Victory on Friday.
“He didn’t tell us until the end of the game, but he had blurred vision and a headache for about half an hour,” Merrick said. “He is being further assessed, but if it is concussion he definitely won’t be playing.”
In-form left back Ivan Vujica is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the campaign, while midfield enforcer Ben Kantarovski (back) and right back Johnny Koutroumbis (hip) are in doubt.
On the positive side, Daniel Georgievski returns after a month out with a knee injury.
Lachlan Jackson is likely to replace Boogaard and Merrick is considering youth team players Angus Thurgate or Pat Langois for the bench.
“Sydney will be tough,” Merrick said. “The good thing about having a successful run for the first twelve games is that you have points in the bank. You can afford to lose a game here and there and stay in the top three or four. The experience the youngsters are getting will stand them in good stead when they are coming off the bench. We have five starting XI players to come in. We are going to be a very much stronger team during the final third of the league and that is a crucial time.”
It has been seven years since the Jets last played in the finals. Last season they entered the new year in sixth place on 13 points, four places and 13 points behind where they are now.
“There have been several people who have helped grow the club,” Merrick said. “First and foremost Martin Lee, the owner, who has invested money in it. Lawrie McKinna (CEO) does an outstanding job and Joel Griffiths helps us sign players. We have brought in quality senior players and the youngsters there were already good players. It has been a bit of an evolution rather than a revolution. My aim is to get in the top six, the players want to be in the top three and are working hard to achieve that.”