THE Newcastle Jets boast the best record in the A-League over the past 10 games despite being out of finals contention, and coach Carl Robinson won't be satisfied with anything less than signing off with a win against Wellington at Jubilee Stadium on Thursday night.
The Jets, stone motherless last when Robinson was appointed before round 18, have reeled off six wins and three draws to be just outside the top six and left pondering "what if".
Victory over championship contenders Phoenix would move the Jets to 34 points, two points adrift of six-placed Western United, who have two games remaining.
"I thought it would work out this way - that we would come up short," Robinson said. "People will talk about us not winning at Central Coast (nil-nil) or hitting the post in the last minute against Brisbane (1-0 loss) and things like that. But the reality is, if you win two games out of 15 at the start of the season, you don't deserve to be in the play-offs.
"I'm disappointed for the boys because what they have been like and what they have committed to since I have been here has been phenomenal.
"I will expect a focused, determined footballing display. There is no [finals] pressure on them but I put pressure on them because someone is always watching you. Someone is always wanting to try and get your spot. If you put that pressure inside them, then you find out about people. You find out about character."
Wellington sit in third spot on 41 points. If the Jets can beat the Kiwis it would complete a satisfying clean sweep of the top three, after out-gunning Sydney (2-1) and Melbourne City (2-1).
"You are only as good as your results and over the last 10 games the boys have been exceptional. They have committed to how I want to play. The way we train is the way we play. The mentality of the group has been first class."
Robinson will make "two or three changes" but said the priority was three points.
"There will be some players who haven't played as much, especially since the break, who will get back into the team," he said.
"I will look at a few options but I want to win the game.
"The easy thing to do would be to blow the team up and make six or seven changes. But I don't think that is the right thing to do. I want to try and win the game."
Dimi Petratos and Abdiel Arroyo are back to full fitness, while rookies Noah James and Lucas Mauragis are also in the frame.
"Dimi is back up to speed and is in contention," Robinson said. "I have Arroyo now who is fully fit and Kosta [Petratos] is chomping at the bit. Bernie Ibini and Nick Fitzgerald have played brilliantly ... I have decisions to make at the top end of the pitch."
The match is likely to be last in Jets colours for Arroyo, whose loan deal is up at the end of August.
Joe Ledley is out with a hamstring strain, but the Welshman hopes to resign for the club next season.
The Jets have known their finals fate since Adelaide drew with Sydney last Thursday to move four points clear, but Robinson said the players commitment and hunger remains as strong as ever.
"They want to learn and want to train," Robinson said.
"Even on days off, half the boys are in recovering. They know what they need to do individually, and collectively they are a together group."
The Jets have been transformed in a possession team under Robinson and have had an average 60 per cent of the ball in the three games back from the COVID break.
"I'm not happy with 60 per cent," Robinson said. " I want more. If you look at the simple mistakes or giveaways or wrong decisions that we have made, they have been very simple. That can get you another four, five, six per cent in a game. In certain halves of football we have had over 70 per cent which is good. When you don't have the ball you, have to find a way to win it back, whether it is high up the field, in a medium block or in a low block."
"That will be focus moving forward to next year. The more of the ball you have the more opportunities you have to create chances. If you do that the likelihood is that you score more goals".
Wellington have rested hired gun Gary Hooper (hamstring) but Robinson expects a tight tussle between two teams in form.
"They are a good team. They are obviously well coached and have key players in key areas," he said. "They deserve to be in the position they are in on the table. Do I think they can win it? Possibly. If you are watching the past four or five games it is hard to actually pick a winner. When the play-offs start it is literally a new competition. All I do know is that there are some good teams in there. I also know there are some teams who are quietly confident confident becasue we are not in it. I think we could have caused some teams problems. It's easy to say. The reality is that it doesn't matter. The teams in the play-offs deserve to be there."
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