SOCCEROOS coach Graham Arnold may have done the Newcastle Jets an almighty favour.
As the Jets chase their first win of the season in Friday night’s showdown with Western Sydney Wanderers at Spotless Stadium, Arnold has potentially provided the spark – intentionally or otherwise – to ignite Newcastle’s talismanic forward Dimi Petratos.
By overlooking Petratos for Australia’s international friendlies against South Korea and Lebanon, Arnold has effectively challenged the 26-year-old to present an irresistible case for selection in his Asian Cup squad.
And while Jets coach Ernie Merrick jokes that Petratos is “hard to get a word out of”, he expects him to produce some emphatic statements on the pitch, starting against the Wanderers.
“He’s full of energy,” Merrick said after training on Thursday. “He’s really keen to play well.
“I think he’d love to play for the Socceroos, so that means performing well at club level and certainly he’s been terrific at training … I guarantee he’ll play well this weekend.”
Arnold’s selection of new faces Craig Goodwin, Awer Mabil and Martin Boyle for the two friendlies raised the question of whether they had leapfrogged Petratos, who was part of Australia’s World Cup squad but did not play a game in Russia.
Merrick said he felt Arnold was “doing everything right” by blooding new players, but that did not mean Petratos had fallen by the wayside.
“Dimi is aware the Asian Cup is not until January,” Merrick said.
“He’s focused on playing well for his club, which has always been his priority.
“I think he’s the type of person that if he doesn’t feel he’s rejected, he’ll work very hard to get back in the Socceroos squad, rather than worry about it, or think that he hasn’t got it.
“He’s definitely up for it.”
Petratos has scored one goal in Newcastle’s first four games, but has perhaps suffered in comparison to his spectacular performances early last season.
By the corresponding stage of their previous campaign, he had three goals to his name, including a long-range screamer against his former club, Brisbane Roar.
Merrick believes it is only a matter of time before Petratos recaptures similar form.
“On the field he’s a very, very dynamic character,” he said.
Merrick was also confident that Brazilian import Jair was ready to put his best foot forward.
Jair has taken time to settle into Newcastle’s style of play and build his match fitness, and while Merrick said “I understand that everyone has an opinion”, he was happy to continue backing the 30-year-old winger.
“If I didn’t see continued improvement from any player, they wouldn’t be in the squad, let alone the starting XI,” Merrick said.
“Jair is putting in really well.
“He’s been outstanding, actually, the past two weeks at training.
“But he’s got to transfer that to match day.”
Newcastle are one of three teams still searching for their first win, along with Brisbane and Central Coast, and have scored three goals in their first four games.
They have started in stark contrast to last season, when they exploded out of the blocks, posting two wins and two draws in the first four rounds and scoring 10 goals in the process.
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