COACH Ernie Merrick is adamant the Jets will “come good when it counts” and believes the visit by a desperate Perth Glory on Friday night is the perfect vehicle to shift their campaign back into top gear.
Consecutive losses to Adelaide (5-2) and Melbourne City (3-0), combined with a long-term injury to skipper Nigel Boogaard, have raised questions about the Jets’ championship credentials.
Merrick concedes they are “going through a flat spot” but is confident that the fluent, front-foot football which propelled last season’s wooden spooners into second place will return in time for the finals.
“I am very upbeat and have a lot of faith in this squad,” Merrick said. “We will come good when it counts. Every team goes through a flat spot at some stage. It is not ideal that it is at the end of the season, but at least we have the points in the bank so we finish second.”
The Jets have two games – Glory at home and Mariners away – to find their mojo before a grand-final qualifier at McDonald Jones Stadium pencilled in for April 27.
“How do you get them out of it (rut)?: through keeping training upbeat, not over-training and having a very positive outlook,” Merrick said. “It’s not doom and gloom. Be upfront and say these are the mistakes we have to learn from. Let’s see if we can get it right and get into goal-scoring positions.”
The Jets, after conceding 25 goals in 23 games, have leaked eight in the past two.
Merrick, though critical of the three goals they copped from set pieces against City, is more worried about reigniting their attack.
“Up until recently we have not conceded many goals from set pieces,” Merrick said.
“We just have to make sure we don’t slacken off. The number of boys who forgot to do their job or were not used to doing a job was pretty bad on Sunday. We can fix that. That is choreography.
“Our biggest asset is scoring goals. We have scored 49 and we want to score more. If you focus too much on defence, you take away from your biggest asset.”
As well give up three goals against City, the Jets were held scoreless for the first time this season.
Roy O’Donovan, back from a two-week suspension, had a series of near misses and Dimi Petratros forced a two diving saves from City keeper Dean Bouzanis.
Ronny Vargas, starting his second game back from a broken ankle, was more involved and influential than against Adelaide.
“There are three or four players who haven’t played a lot recently,” Merrick said.
“That is a lot, but I’d rather persevere and give them game time than try and change things around again.
“I think Ronny is close to 85 per cent now. It is a matter of having confident players around him.”
They meet a Perth outfit sitting in eighth spot and playing for survival on Friday.
Anything less than a win in Newcastle could spell the end of their play-off hopes.
The Jets, who can only finish second, were in a similar situation against a City side in a dogfight for third.
Merrick admitted afterward the loss that City looked as though “they had more to play for” and has challenged the Jets to lift the intensity.
“We want to play teams who are desperate to beat us,” Merrick said. “That, for me, is the best preparation for the finals. The tougher the game the more it suits us. It is also important that we play well in front of our home crowd and not let them down again. ”
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