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Merrick keeps Jets’ expectations in check

By Emma Kemp, Emma Kemp is a Roar Guru

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    Ernie Merrick is playing down Newcastle’s unlikely A-League title credentials despite very nearly dismantling Sydney FC.

    A youthful Jets side offered up a thrilling blueprint of how to beat the reigning champions on their own turf on Wednesday, disrupting Sydney’s game and very nearly leaving Allianz Stadium with all three points.

    Had Bobo not scored a 2-2 equaliser in the 87th minute, last season’s wooden-spooners would have closed the gap between themselves and the leaders back to five points.

    An eight-point deficit remains but the Jets, despite missing more than half their regular starters, are closer to the far more seasoned Sky Blues on some fronts than perhaps Graham Arnold would like to admit.

    Halfway through the season, second-placed Newcastle have eight wins to Sydney’s 11 and scored 32 goals to Sydney’s 35.

    Third-placed Melbourne Victory have the next-highest goal count with 18 and sit eight points adrift, albeit with a game in hand.

    But Merrick was still not willing to say his side were Sydney’s closest title challengers.

    “I wouldn’t jump that far ahead,” Merrick said.

    “I’m just pretty happy to come here and get a point because they’re a good team.

    “We’ll be in the finals, and we’ll be aiming to get to our best football in the finals, get our best team out, and have a little bit more depth.

    “If you’d have said to me pre-season that 13 games in it’d be one and two in a big clash in Sydney and we’d be number two, and we’d scored 30 goals, I’d have taken that.

    “I didn’t think we’d do it, but we’ve done it. And we’ve done it without (Ronny) Vargas and (Roy) O’Donovan.”

    Merrick predicted he had six first-team players to slot back in, including new signings Riley McGree and Argentine Patricio Rodriguez.

    Rodriguez arrived in Newcastle on Wednesday and, pending a medical on Thursday, will be available to play next Tuesday at home to Central Coast.

    Part of the Jets’ ability to defy expectations this season has been their unwillingness to park the bus in the face of daunting challenges, even when their coach himself did not expect a result.

    “With that many inexperienced players in the team against a formidable opponent away from home, I honestly thought we wouldn’t win the game,” Merrick said.

    “My attitude was ‘we’ve lost the game anyway, so let’s see if we can score a few goals and just make it a little bit difficult for them, and at the same time learn to play our game plan under pressure’.

    “But don’t become a defensive unit that just attacks occasionally … I refuse to go back to a defensive-type set-up.”

    © AAP 2018

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    The Crowd Says (74)

    • January 4th 2018 @ 7:00am
      Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      Well done to Merrick and the depleted Newcastle boys taking it right up to Sydney .

      A draw was a fair result for now.

      Great game of A league football, I hope the neutral fans enjoyed it as much as me.

      • January 4th 2018 @ 10:53am
        Footoverhand said | January 4th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        Best game this season.

    • January 4th 2018 @ 8:35am
      AGO74 said | January 4th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Great game. Both teams contributed to possibly best game of the season – exactly what you want from a 1 v 2 contest. Skill, pace, technique, good defence, end to end contest topped off with a Messi-esque goal from Ninko.

      Newcastle were outstanding and im honest enough to say just shaded Sydney overall. Their defence and overall setup was excellent and really forced us into finding a different way to play to score which to the boys credit we eventually did. Ugly looking header from Bobo but in reality it was perfectly placed as it gave Moss no chance. Newcastle have some quality young players and scored two excellent goals (though 2nd was more of a nice finish from a scrappy corner). Ernie Merrick is again showing he is still a very good coach. Jets have plenty of reason to be optimistic with key players returning.

      Great atmosphere as well with 18,000 strong crowd right into it. I wonder how many brought along kids with the the bring kids free offer to members? I know for myself that was an added benefit of my membership being able to take my kids for free to the last 2 home games. 750 kickoff is never great with kids given late finish but you can get away with it in school holidays (can we please move kick offs back to 7 or 715 – amazing the difference that extra 40/50 minutes makes with young kids). Anyway it’s a Great initiative. Keep it up sydney fc and/or FFA (not sure who actually drove this initiative).

      Oberall, a top night on and off the field which showed the best of the A-League.

      • January 4th 2018 @ 8:47am
        Waz said | January 4th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        I don’t think there’s any doubt it was the best game of the season, it near enough had everything plus a decent crowd.

        On the night I think SFC should have won it though, they weren’t their usual clinical selves despite a couple of good goals. But put O’Donnovon in that team and Jets would have won; Nabbout is a good player but he’s no striker and wastes both position and chances.

        • January 4th 2018 @ 9:49am
          punter said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

          I think you have summarize the game as i saw it too Waz.

          SFC showed their usual one touch football, the finesse but was not so clinical in front of goal.

          Newcastle hit us brilliantly on the counter with speed & & great skill, but also was no so clinical in front of goal.

          Great game overall, glad I didn’t give you that 3 goal start Kanga.

          • January 4th 2018 @ 9:50am
            punter said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:50am | ! Report

            OH BTW NINKO, NINKO, NINKO, what a player.

            • Roar Rookie

              January 4th 2018 @ 9:57am
              At work said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

              WHAT A GOAL from the best player in the league.

              I think Ninko wanted to make a statement last night, as the 2nd best player in the league (Adrian) had been taking all the spotlight of late 🙂

              In saying that, sometimes Ninko needs to shoot when he’s in and around the 18 yard box instead of trying to provide a silky assist.

          • January 4th 2018 @ 1:52pm
            Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            Punter

            Great goal by nincovich again. With sfc facing a heavy schedule with afc games …. who does Arnold turn to give some respite to his big 3 of bobo ninc and Adrian . Has he still got that Austrian striker on speed dial

        • January 4th 2018 @ 12:04pm
          Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

          Waz

          I agree on Nabbout wasting chances . He needs 4 chances to score 1 . That’s where O’Donovan fits in.

          Also a lot chances falling to Hoffman , who is a fringe right back forced to play up front . I see Hoffman fighting for his spot with Rodriguez or Nabbout later in the season

          Wonderful goal by nincovich too . He is so often the difference when Sydney need it .

          Punter ,

          I guess now , what does Arnold do now with his squad come acl , an injury to bobo , nincovich and Adrian would be harsh . I’m sure he going to recruit someone to back these players up ??? Any ideas who

          • January 4th 2018 @ 5:24pm
            punter said | January 4th 2018 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

            Between Bobo, Ninko & Adrian, one of these players will miss the ACL, so one of the latter 2 will be kept fresh for A-League. Carney has played most of this year as either Adrian or Ninko has been injured, first time both started yesterday for awhile. There is also a young player called Kalik, who is a quality player just not in Ninko or Adrian’s level & lastly there is Retre, who could play the Hoffman role. So there is some back up here, plus we may need to call up some of the younger players.
            As for Bobo, yes if injured we are in big trouble, we would need goals from the midfield, both Simon (A-League has gone past him) & Lokolingoy (terrible 1st touch), may have the physicality to intimadate the Asian players, but neither will trouble the score sheets.

        • January 4th 2018 @ 2:01pm
          Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          Waz

          Good analysis.

          Good luck to Brisbane tonight . I hope that despite their massive injury which has been well described by you all season , that they can get 3 points tonight

          Cheers

          Kanga

          • January 4th 2018 @ 3:11pm
            Waz said | January 4th 2018 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

            Cheers KJ

            It was good getting it wrong on Jets last night, your boys played well 👍

    • January 4th 2018 @ 9:03am
      Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      Game of the season . Well played by both

      Despite having 8 players out , Newcastle were proved they are no chokers against the big opposition.

      Newcastle have a draw and a loss against Sydney , and a win and a loss against victory. Interesting times ahead for Newcastle when they can get close to full strength.

      It’s very cliched , but football was the winner on the night . Spread the word to your mates about this great A league we have

    • January 4th 2018 @ 9:17am
      Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Nincovich goal was terrific. It was a good thing boogard was not playing as boogs would have opted to bring him down and get the red card .

      Beautiful goal , by a great player

    • January 4th 2018 @ 9:27am
      Ian said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      I’ll just say – top game to watch. Thrilling entertainment.

      Was hoping SFC’s undefeated streak at home had ended until the 87th minute.

      • January 4th 2018 @ 9:35am
        Waz said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        I was a bit conflicted on that one Ian, it’s hard to see SFC losing two games on the bounce and next up they’re away to Brisbane so can live with the equaliser even though it would have been better for the comp if jets had held on.

        • January 4th 2018 @ 12:53pm
          j,binnie said | January 4th 2018 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

          Waz – Sydney FC have a very pleasant problem inasmuch they have 2 very good play-makers in the team,probably the best all round players in the HAL.
          They “cover” these players with 2 very competent ,hard working local lads who last night were put under tremendous pressure by the hard running ,hard working Jet’s players and for once in a long time their distribution began to suffer as they consistently turned the ball over to an opponent
          Add to this the league’s leading goalscorer having a less than successful night in front of goal and suddenly we saw Sydney being matched all around the field with seemingly boundless energy from the Jets players.
          A great contest evolved out of these factors that must have pleased the 18,000 crowd immensely.
          One thing that did emerge from the contest was that Arnold must surely look to his bench and decide what to do with Simon ,who, in his half hour cameo, must have been caught offside on at least 8 occasions. For a striker of his experience this is almost unforgiveable and really makes one start to wonder why he is still there.
          All in all a great night’s entertainment and both teams have to be congratulated. Cheers jb..

          • January 4th 2018 @ 1:10pm
            Redondo said | January 4th 2018 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

            JB – good points. Brillante’s passing, in particular, falls away under pressure. Too many poor options and misplaced passes. To be fair to him though Sydney players were gasping at points in the game and sometimes there was simply nobody to pass to.

            Re Simon – Lokolingoy doesn’t look much more promising. Why do so many Aussie guys have such poor touch?

            Re the game – it was a cracker. And I’d swear Arnold actually went for the win after Sydney equalised, which was a pleasant surprise.

        • January 4th 2018 @ 2:17pm
          Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

          Brisbane will need some mental fortitude to face Sydney. They could use Newcastle blueprints on how to compete with sfc

    • Roar Guru

      January 4th 2018 @ 9:29am
      Griffo said | January 4th 2018 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      A good game. Sydney have good players and the slow build by Arnold and the ability to keep this side fairly consistent across the previous season with tweaks would be looked at by other clubs surely.

      Merrick has indicated this a few games ago and how, in that aspect, Sydney are much further ahead than we are.

      Doing well would make us more attractive to players than in previous seasons so the challenge will be in recruiting to improve, not just for the sake of filling a roster.

      At the moment, depleted as we are, we are challenging Sydney on the park.

      With injuries and new players to come in I wonder how this may disrupt a side, especially new players, used to the makeshift positions they are in?

      While there may be some adjustment, I think Merrick shows how much he scrutinises recruitment to fit his setup and looks to get better than what he has.

      With O’Donavan, Vargas etc. still to come in we can only be better. Rodriguez then next week (hopefully fit enough for 60 minutes first game) should only enhance.

      ‘Tasty’ as Merrick puts it for sure, but I think there will be a little adjustment period for the new players but that will be out of the way for the finals.

      • January 4th 2018 @ 10:26am
        Redondo said | January 4th 2018 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        Griffo

        A large part of Newcastle’s good performance last night was due to quick, fit young guys pressing Sydney constantly and then doing repeat 50-60 metre sprints on the break. It disrupted Sydney brilliantly but the Newcastle guys were knackered after 80 minutes.

        I couldn’t help thinking Newcastle won’t be able to play like that when the older, slower guys of the real first team are back. I’m not sure how Merrick will solve that.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 4th 2018 @ 10:31am
          At work said | January 4th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          I was surprised how long they were able to press for, I thought definitely soon after half-time they’d relax it and give Sydney more space but it didn’t really happen.

          Good point on bringing back their older first team players, they won’t be able to press like that, but they bring more quality, will be interesting to see what Merrick does with this.

        • January 4th 2018 @ 10:55am
          Lionheart said | January 4th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          that’s what I was thinking, they’re better with the young guys, maybe a couple of changes but Merrick will be wise no doubt, and keep his winners in place.

        • Roar Guru

          January 4th 2018 @ 2:18pm
          Griffo said | January 4th 2018 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

          Redondo, that will be a thing for those long term injuries that come back in as well.

          Georgievski looks like a good knock away on his knee to being out again but he is first team and was displacing Hoffman early season.

          I think the attack quickly mantra will remain but with the likes of Vargas passing out wide to the younger fitter attackers perhaps. Possibility of Rodriguez filling this role short term, or going wide and leaving Petratos central until Vargas return.

          Interesting to see what happens, for sure.

          • January 4th 2018 @ 2:27pm
            Redondo said | January 4th 2018 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

            If Merrick gets it right I’d bet on a Sydney-Newcastle grand final and I’d back Newcastle to win. Actually, I don’t bet on anything but you know what I mean.

            • January 4th 2018 @ 3:13pm
              Kangajets said | January 4th 2018 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

              Redondo

              I’ve been backing that grand final for a while now .

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