Jets show their qualities in against-the-odds win over City
In the lead-up to their clash with Melbourne City on Friday night, Newcastle boss Ernie Merrick joked he’d have to play the club’s Under-16 team given the Jets’ heavy fixture list.
Playing their third game in eight days – ahead of next Tuesday’s must-win ACL qualifier against Kashima Antlers in Japan – Merrick rested seven of his first-team regulars against City.
The Jets were given little chance of pulling off a win, especially against a City side that had bolstered their attack with new recruits Jamie Maclaren and Shayon Harrison.
But someone forgot to give the script to Newcastle’s crop of youngsters and fringe players Merrick called upon at McDonald Jones Stadium.
While City started stronger, the Jets soon found their rhythm and deservedly took a lead to the break thanks to Jair’s towering header.
The Brazilian typified Newcastle’s attitude and resilience. Yet to consistently show his best since joining the club at the start of the season, Jair was playing with verve and confidence.
It was something that flowed through the entire Jets side in the first half. But the big question would be whether they could maintain those standards for 90 minutes?
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When Maclaren equalised for City 10 minutes after the break it appeared the Jets’ fill-ins may have run out of gas.
But two inspired substitutions from Merrick swung the game back in Newcastle’s favour – and might just have saved their season.
Not long after their introductions, Roy O’Donovan and Joey Champness both scored – set-up by the other – to give the Jets a memorable win against all the odds.
“I was pretty impressed. We managed to change our whole style of football, we didn’t have the legs to run,” a delighted Merrick told Fox Sports after the match.
“The boys that were out there that were playing on Tuesday night did a hell of a job but we had to play fairly compactly and catch them on the break and we did that fairly well, especially when Roy [O’Donovan] and Joey Champness came on.
“The midfield worked tirelessly and did a great job and it was great to see Jair get a goal and perform so well.
“They [O’Donovan and Champness] worked well,” Merrick added.
“We needed to give Joey game time and he’s proved he’s not far away from 60-70 minutes, and Roy is just so reliable and his speed makes a big difference to our team.”
While the Jets – who head to Japan at 5am on Saturday – still have a bit of work to do to make the Hyundai A-League Finals Series, if they do get there they’ll look back at this game as a turning point in their season.
And it shows there’s plenty of depth, quality and fighting spirit at the Hunter club.