ERNIE Merrick is prepared to put the Newcastle Jets' 4-1 defeat to defending A-League champions Sydney FC down to a "bad game", but the experienced coach is concerned about a lack of goals from open play.
The Jets were out-gunned, especially in the second half, by a clinical Sydney FC at Lechhardt Oval on Friday night.
Matt Millar opened his Jets account with a header from a Dimi Petratos freekick in the ninth minute which cancelled out Sydney's opener by Milos Ninkovic.
Millar's goal was the Jets' third for the campaign - all from dead-ball situations.
Petratos converted from the penalty spot in the 1-all draw with the Mariners and Abdiel Arroyo produced a piece of brilliance from a long throw-in in the 2-1 loss to Adelaide at home.
Creating chances hasn't been the issue.
They crafted 17 shots against the Mariners, 12 in the loss to Adelaide and nine on Friday night.
"We are struggling to score goals from open play," Merrick said. "Even at the end, Jason [Hoffman] was right through one-on-one and we didn't score. Abdiel had a chance, Matt Millar had a chance. We are just struggling to score a goal from open play and we have done so much work on it all pre-season. I'm not sure if it something we are going to solve in the short-term. At training, it is not a problem.
"I think it's very important that we play attacking football and play the style of football that has always got the teams I've coached into finals. Our boys tried to score goals right to the end. We should have taken a couple of chances."
Long-term injuries to Wes Hoolahan and Kaine Sheppard have impacted on the Jets' depth in attack.
"I'm struggling up front for experienced, quality players to bring on," said Merrick, who on Friday became the first coach to notch 300 games in the A-League. "Nick Fitzgerald came on and was reasonable. When we lost Kaine Shepherd and more importantly Wes Hoolahan, it made a big difference to us. We played Sydney in pre-season and drew. In all the pre-season games with our full squad, we did really well.
"Having said that I still think we have a strong enough team to win matches on a regular basis and be in the finals. They are allowed to have a bad game away from home against a very strong side."
Merrick believes the Jets' issues are mainly mental.
"It is performing under mental stress and physical fatigue," he said.
"They don't have that at training. They are all fresh, short, sharp sessions. It's all mental. The best strikers in the world are calm under pressure.
"All we can do is continue to work on it at training."
Merrick had been happy with the Jets' progression before the below-par performance against Sydney followed
"To be fair to the boys it is the first time they have played badly," he said. "We should have taken all three point in the first two games. The stats are quite clear there.
"We didn't deserve the points against Sydney."
Ben Kantarovski played another 45 minutes against Sydney and Merrick hinted that the midfielder was likely to start against Perth Glory at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
"We need his experience on the park," Merrick said.