Is Ernie Merrick the Jets’ best ever pilot?

Chris Matthews-Darby Roar Pro

By Chris Matthews-Darby, Chris Matthews-Darby is a Roar Pro

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    Life is good in Newcastle at the moment. The Newcastle Interchange just opened, Supercars is weeks away, and it looks like Big Al’s restaurant is returning.

    Oh, and it looks like the city finally has a decent football team.

    Aside from Ronald Vargas’ likely season-ending injury, Newcastle are sitting pretty after three rounds, and coach Ernie Merrick is quickly vanquishing memories of predecessors such as Phil Stubbins and Nick Theodorakopoulos.

    It might be early days, but for a club that hasn’t made the finals since 2009-10, he could easily be the best coach they’ve had, and this could easily be the best team they’ve had.

    Newcastle have scored nine goals after three rounds, which is a league high so far this season. It is also the most the club has scored at this stage of a season. The Jets scored seven goals after three matches last season and five in 2012-13.

    Roy O’Donovan has started his Newcastle career with a bang, netting five times in the first three rounds, which is the most ever scored by a Jets player at this stage. Nine players have scored twice after Round 3 but never more than that until the former Central Coast Mariner walked through the door.

    As a club, 38 goals is the most they have scored in a season, that was the 2011-12 campaign. In the past three seasons they haven’t scored more than 28, they are very much on track to best that tally this season.

    The combination of O’Donovan, Dimitri Petratos, and Andrew Nabbout is arguably the strongest front line Newcastle have fielded in A-League history. Unfortunately it appears we will not get to see Venezuelan Vargas’ full potential but there is enough fire in the squad to deal with the setback.

    Newcastle currently sit in second place on seven points, which is their best position ever after three rounds. They have had six points on three occasions and five points on two occasions, but never seven. Newcastle won 36 points in the 2013-14 season, which is the most they have won. While they are still 29 points shy from that record, if they continue in this vein of form they’ll surpass it with ease.

    Ben Kantarovski Newcaslte Jets

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    Merrick has always had an eye for talent, particularly from Central and South America, but most Jets fans will be surprised with how well Ben Kantarovski has started the season.

    The 25-year-old is Newcastle’s most capped player with 143 but hasn’t really accomplished much since debuting in 2008. But the Scotsman’s magic touch seems to be working on the Newcastle native.

    Just take a look at his stats to begin the season: 149 touches, 118 passes, 14 duels won, eight interceptions, six tackles, and one goal.

    The same can be said about Ivan Vujica, the left back had his season cut short due to injury in 2016-17 and he’s making up for lost time in the first three rounds.

    His stats are: 76 passes, 14 interceptions, eight clearances, seven chances, two crosses, one assist.

    The crowds are coming back to Hunter Stadium, too. Yes, Newcastle have only played one game at home this season, and yes, they gave away a good 6000 tickets for free, but the 14,833 strong crowd in their Round 2 match against Perth Glory was their biggest crowd since Round 5, 2015-16, a 2-1 loss to Western Sydney in November 2015.

    Newcastle will support their club. They’ve supported the Knights through three consecutive wooden spoons, and it’s obvious they have continued to support the Jets through two wooden spoons in three seasons, and seven seasons without a finals appearance.

    The tides are turning in Newcastle, the vibes haven’t been this strong since Ljubo Milicevic left the club. We might only be three rounds into the season, and they might have lost a key player, but Ernie Merrick may be building the best team Newcastle have ever had.

    There have been upsets aplenty in the World Cup so far, so be sure to check out our expert tips and predictions for South Korea vs Sweden, Belgium vs Panama and England vs Tunisia and get the good oil on who to tip tonight.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • October 24th 2017 @ 7:28am
      Onside said | October 24th 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      Ernie Merrick would be a good coach of The Socceroos. OK ,it wont happen, but he’s an excellent coach

    • October 24th 2017 @ 8:10am
      Buddy said | October 24th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      There are many supporters of other teams that want to see the Jets succeed and football to rise again in the Newcastle area. Even if there were quite a few thousand tickets given away for the Perth game, there is still revenue being generated through the extra attendees and hopefully some will come back. Besides, it is yet another stadium that can be a bit depressing when there is less than 10.000 inside and not much noise. The scheduling of this weekend’s game to Sunday at 7:00 pm will almost certainly diminish the number of visiting supporters who usually descend on Newcastle in large waves but hopefully with some good local marketing and support there will be a cracking atmosphere, good numbers and some good football.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 24th 2017 @ 9:44am
        At work said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        Hey Buddy the game on Sunday is at 5pm, CCM have the 7pm slot.

        Going through the draw, the people of Newcastle are lucky that they support a regional team as they have quite a few Saturday afternoon 5:30pm matches as they aren’t as likely to rate as well as the Sydney or Melbourne clubs.

        • October 24th 2017 @ 11:50am
          Buddy said | October 24th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

          Thanks….I’ll make sure I am there on time!

      • October 24th 2017 @ 12:25pm
        Onside said | October 24th 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        Agree re broader support. Roar supporter, but the league need strong clubs
        with long football history. One reason I would like to see Wollongong included.

    • October 24th 2017 @ 9:05am
      chris said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      Any Jets fans with updates on Vargas injury? Really feel for the guy.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 24th 2017 @ 9:41am
      At work said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      Ronald Vargas is a massive loss for Newcastle, without him they may struggle to make the finals.
      Although Roy O’Donovan has been a great buy, I knew CCM failed in not keeping him and he’s showing what he’s capable of. My fantasy team is certainly much healthier with him in it!

      I wonder what Ernie thinks of how football tactics have progressed over the past decade with tiki-taka. I know that it’s not his way and you can tell by the way he coaches his teams that he prefers a more direct approach, and you could argue that it’s a more attractive a positive approach than to hold possession for the sake of it.

      Anyway I’m happy to see Newcastle improving, hopefully they do make the top 6, or even challenge for a home final.

    • October 24th 2017 @ 10:10am
      Ryan said | October 24th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      * Vargas Injury*

      He flew home to Newcastle yesterday with squad, and by all reports in good spirits.

      Apparently the surgery went really well, and the surgeon thinks he will make a full recovery. Ronny was worried his career was over, but happy with that news.

      It was reported in the Newcastle Herald this morning he may be a chance to play in the finals if we make it, if his re-hab goes well.

      Fingers crossed, as he is already a fan favourite here in the Hunter.

      http://www.theherald.com.au/story/5007215/jets-hopeful-vargas-will-be-fit-for-finals/?cs=306

      • October 24th 2017 @ 10:56am
        chris said | October 24th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        Cheers Ryan. Thats great news. Hoping he has a speedy recovery.

    • October 24th 2017 @ 11:41am
      Fadida said | October 24th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

      To early to say how the Jets will go. An injury replacement for Vargas is essential

      • Roar Rookie

        October 24th 2017 @ 11:52am
        At work said | October 24th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        Yes obviously imperative that Martin Lee opens the cheque book again to replace the quality they lost on Sunday afternoon.

        Can anyone confirm that the Jet’s can get another marquee player to replace Vargas?
        If so this would obviously mean Vargas could return this season

        • Roar Guru

          October 24th 2017 @ 3:52pm
          tully101 said | October 24th 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

          They can get an injury replacement, whose wag would not count inside the cap, also his visa wouldn’t take up a spot, however the jets still have a visa and marquee spot free, so I doubt the injury replacement rule would change anything

          • Roar Rookie

            October 24th 2017 @ 3:57pm
            At work said | October 24th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            Thanks Tully, now just depends on Lee spending some extra cash to get a quality replacement.

      • Roar Guru

        October 24th 2017 @ 4:38pm
        Griffo said | October 24th 2017 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

        Yep and I hope whoever was first or third on the list may still be interested, given how long it took to get Vargas’ signature.

        Still no rush if the team plays well. He will be a hard act to follow. I’m not even sure Martin Lee will pay out another marquee wage this year though.

        Pity we still are waiting to fill the last visa slot with a Chinese development player. Two quality signings would be a boost, but not until January for the last slot.

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