Merrick hails ‘tenacious’ Jets

Newcastle Jets head coach Ernie Merrick has lauded his side’s character following their 3-1 win over Melbourne City on Friday night. 

The Jets went into their clash at McDonald Jones Stadium with limited preparation due to the side battling on two fronts: Seeking a top-six space in the Hyundai A-League, while vying for a group stage spot in the AFC Champions League. 

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However, goals to Jair, Joey Champness and Roy O’Donovan sealed the win for an understrength Newcastle outfit and earned the praise of their tactician Ernie Merrick who hasn’t given up on a finals spot just yet.

“Although it’s been a very hectic period, we’ve become very resilient, very strong, very tenacious and battle-hardened,” said Merrick. 

“I think anyone we play against is going to have a tough game against us. 

“(We will keep chasing a final spot) until it’s mathematically impossible to do so. 

“It’s six points between us and two teams (Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix with) eight games to go.” 

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Champness received special praise from Merrick following two bouts of injuries which have kept him on the sidelines for more than four months. 

The 21-year-old sustained back-to-back injuries which has limited his contribution to two games this campaign. 

“Joey has been out for 20-odd weeks,” said Merrick.

“As he was coming good (with his foot injury) he got hamstring problems. 

“But we decided to give him 15 minutes but I cheated and gave him 25, he did the job when he came on. 

“He was running out of legs at the end but it’s good at this time of the year, especially losing Jason Hoffman.”

As soon as the full-time whistle sounded, the Jets’ concentration was fixed firmly on their upcoming AFC Champions League qualifier against J-League champions Kashima Antlers. 

The fixture, which kicks off Tuesday night, will be a tough test for Merrick’s side who must stem Kashima’s free-flowing football and create chances of their own. 

However, perhaps even tougher is the ordeal of travelling to Japan. 

“On the bus at five in the morning, head down to Sydney,” said Merrick. 

“Fly and stopover in Seoul and then fly the next day to Japan and try our best to recover. 

“It’ll be a tough trip and it’ll be a tough trip back but I think we’ll be running on adrenaline because the excitement of the opportunity to qualify for the group stage of the Asian Champions League, we’re really excited about that.”

Kashima Antlers
Kashima Antlers in action during the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018.

Joyce laments City’s ‘poor decisions’

Melbourne City head coach Warren Joyce believes his side were unlucky not to come away with at least a point on Friday night, and fell victim to a combination of quick counter-attacks and lapses in concentration. 

City enjoyed a period early in the second half that saw them pepper Newcastle’s goal and test the resilience of Merrick’s squad. 

And though Jamie Maclaren was able to get his second Hyundai A-League goal in as many games, ultimately City’s vulnerability on the counter-attack cost them.

“At 1-1 we were in control of the game,” said Joyce.

“There were poor decisions by individuals, poor pass selection. 

“You keep the ball moving, rest defence is counting numbers and just making sure we’re not caught for the killer punch and moving around, looking for the overload.”

Joyce noted the progress of Maclaren and Shayon Harrison who played their second game for the club. 

While fans may be familiar with Maclaren, Harrison has shown he is an astute pick-up who adds guile and intelligence to City’s attack. 

Joyce said the best was yet to come from both players who are still getting used to their new teammates and surroundings. 

“It’s not easy whether you’re an international or a kid coming in, integrating with your new teammates,” said Joyce.

“Getting on their wavelength, eye contact so you’ve got an understand of where people can pass it at a particular time — that’s not an easy job to do for any footballer so they’ve settled in well. 

“They’re still looking for more game sharpness and fitness, the both of them.”