COACH Ernie Merrick has stressed the importance of ‘picking up points’ as the Newcastle Jets embark on a helter skelter four games in 14 days which could prove pivotal in the race for the A-League premiership.
The Jets take on a resurgent Melboune Victory at AAMI Park on Friday night. They then back up on the road against leaders Sydney FC next Wednesday (January 3) before home games against Central Coast (January 9) and Brisbane (January 12).
The Jets, sitting second on 26 points, are five points adrift of the Sky Blues, whose work load will increase in February with the start of the Asian Champions League Group stage.
Significantly, the Jets, who haven’t made the finals in seven years, have a seven-point buffer to third placed Melbourne City and are 14 points clear of the Mariners in seventh.
“Four games is 12 points and that makes a big difference in this league,” Merrick said. “Sydney and ourselves have had a little bit of a breakaway, but the rest of the pack is pretty close. It is a period where the league ladder could change enormously. It is important that we keep picking up points. They might not all be wins but you have to keep picking up points. To stay in the top four is what we have been thinking about. The type of football you have to play and the number of goals you have to score to stay in the top four, and we are on track to do that. If we can keep up this level of pressure on opposition teams and keep creating goal scoring opportunities, it will look after itself.”
The packed program is a part of the “Summer Football Festival” in which 37 games are being played over 25 days across the A-League and W-League.
The Jets have previously accounted for Victory (4-1), the Mariners (5-1) and Brisbane (2-1) this season, but Merrick is not taking anything for granted, especially with a depleted playing group.
Roy O’Donovan, Jack Duncan and Ronny Vargas are sidelined with injury. Vargas’ replacement Patricio Rodriguez has yet to arrive from Argentina. Fellow new arrival Riley McGree and utility Nick Cowburn leave on January 2 with the Australian under-23s to contest the Asian Cup in China and could miss up to five games.
On the plus side, Daniel Georgievski is a chance of returning from a knee injury against Victory.
Ben Kantarovski (back) was on light duties at training on Wednesday, but is expected to be fit for Friday.
“It is the ‘summer fesitival of football’ yet everyone is losing players to an under-23 competition that is really, worthless,” Merrick said. “It would be ideal to have our full squad so we can rotate players but we don’t have the numbers. Usually in these situations the senior players are the ones you rely on to hang in there. With a couple of boys back from injury, at least we have a couple of spots we can rotate.”
Victory, after a slow start to the campaign, have found their mojo, winning three of the past four games to move to fifth spot on 16 points.
“We did a video session this morning,” Merrick said. “We looked at our last game against Wanderers. We also looked at how Victory set up against Melbourne City and we also looked at how we played against them last time. You obviously want to repeat that type of performance.”