Newcastle Jets manager Ernie Merrick says his side has ‘settled down’ after a rollercoaster back end of 2018 and is ready to challenge for a spot in the Hyundai A-League Finals Series.
The Jets impressive 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night was sealed thanks to efforts from Johnny Koutroumbis and Dimitri Petratos and moved them to within two points of the sixth-placed Wellington Phoenix.
The Jets have failed to hit the heights of last year so far this campaign and have been hit with several blows most notably promising youngster Koutroumbis being diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Speaking post-match, Merrick said it looked like it was finally all coming together for the Novocastrians.
“We’ve had a few things to deal with this year but now we’ve settled the team down again,” Merrick said.
“Jair’s playing good football, it was a big loss losing Jason Hoffman and Mitch [Austin] left and Johnny was sick, he’s come good again and all of a sudden we’re playing some really good football.
“The Asian Champions League, it was tough playing three games in eight days, twice, but it’s made us a stronger and better team because of it, particularly in defence and we’ve always got the type of boys that will score goals.”
The Jets looked lethal on the counter-attack and would have had more goals to their name if not for a fine string of saves by Victory custodian Lawrence Thomas.
“I didn’t think we set up very well in the first 20 minutes, I think we were getting really well beaten down our right side and I had to make a couple of changes so I put Daniel [Georgievski] across there and I changed the backline formation…moved Johnny Koutroumbis into midfield rather than the wing-back role and then we settled into it,” Merrick explained
“From then on I thought we defended really well and we played some good football, we started to hit a few long balls which I wasn’t happy with so we changed that and I think the longer the game went the better we got. We didn’t counter-attack the whole game but when we did we were very good.”
Victory boss Kevin Muscat meanwhile was philosophical after the match, saying he was happy with his side’s proactive approach to the match despite a loss which dealt a blow to their Premiership hopes.
“I was pleased with our approach, pleased with our urgency and intensity and at that point in time with the ascendancy and territory we had, the opportunities we were creating we had to take the lead,” Muscat said.
“The first goal then gives them really something to hold onto and defend and drop even deeper so in the end, from our perspective once we analyse that, ok it was a game we’ve not won tonight but there were some real positives.”