CARL Robinson wants the Newcastle Jets' defenders to walk around with a smile on their face. Enjoy the one-on-one duels. Thrive in the contest.
"Defending is an art," Robinson said on the eve of the Jets' battle with Melbourne Victory at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night. "It's not just for people who don't want to be the forward players. "
After focusing his early attention on sparking the Jets strike force, the new coach is now turning the screws at the back.
The Jets have leaked a league-high 35 goals in 17 games - one less than they conceded for the entire 2018-19 campaign.
Since Robinson was appointed, they have given up four from a 4-3 win over the Mariners and a 1-all draw with Wanderers.
"The successful teams, not just in this league but any in the world, are built from a solid defensive foundation," Robinson said. "We need to improve that. The captain and the other defenders have been very open about it and want to work on it. I enjoy doing that with them because it is just as important as working with the forwards on movement or the midfield rotation."
Interim coach Craig Deans changed the defensive structure from a back four under Ernie Merrick to a back-three with two wingbacks. Robinson has retained that shape.
"I have said to them: 'this is how we defend and this is why we defend this way'," he said. "Roles and responsibilities vary within that structure but the foundation never changes.
"My challenge to the defensive players is to enjoy defending. You have to have a smile, you have to enjoy blocking, you have to enjoy putting your head on the ball, you have to enjoy the one-v-one duels. That is their role."
There were encouraging signs, especially in the second half, against the Wanderers.
The Jets were proactive, pressed high up the pitch and forced turnovers.
"Ideally, I want to get to the stage where we can do it for the majority of the game," Robinson said. "That will be dependent on conditions, climate and travel et cetera. There will be times when we do it. You saw that on Saturday. The pressing aspect of the game was top notch and we deservedly got our goal and point from a counter-press, and probably should have got more."
Melbourne Victory are coming off a midweek trip to Korea where they went down 1-0 to FC Seoul in the Asian Champions League.
Leigh Broxham and Tim Hoogland return and winger Marcos Rojas will start for the first time since arriving in January.
The Jets are unchanged from the Wanderers' stalemate, but former Ireland and Norwich midfielder Wes Hoolahan is expected to make his A-League debut off the bench after receiving a final clearance on Friday.
The last time these teams met - on January 5 in Melbourne - the Jets were hammered 4-0, Merrick's last game in charge.
"Melbourne Victory are a super organisation," Robinson said. "My friend was the manager prior to leaving last year, Kevin Muscat.
"I know a lot about Melbourne. They have good players and sometimes the season doesn't work out for you as you would like. I'm not fooled by that."
"If we don't turn up, it is irrelevant about the opposition. What I have to focus on is my team, and what we are good at, what we can do and what we can improve. If we do that, the rest takes care of itself. We know it will be a difficult game - two teams who are fighting for their lives. They are the best games. They are the games that mean something."