Pepper hots up A-League F3 derby 

HOME-grown Jet Jacob Pepper hopes his aggressive style gives him an edge when coach Gary van Egmond decides who fills the midfield vacancy for the F3 derby against Central Coast Mariners tomorrow night in Newcastle. 

Van Egmond has nominated Josh Brillante and Pepper this week as likely candidates to replace captain and midfield enforcer Jobe Wheelhouse, who is sidelined with a knee injury suffered at training on Tuesday.

Wheelhouse had an MRI scan on his right knee yesterday and the results were expected to be known today. 

The initial diagnosis was a grade one or grade two medial ligament strain, which will keep him out of action until the new year.

Pepper looms as an ideal replacement for the Hunter Stadium clash after playing 17 matches, 13 as a starter, in the A-League side last season.

The 20-year-old former Edgeworth Eagle also has an edge in midfield experience over 19-year-old Brilliante, who has played predominantly at fullback this campaign.

Pepper, though, has had only two runs off the bench this season for a total of 11 minutes, while Brilliante has has two starts and two  efforts as a substitute, for 244 minutes in total.

Pepper was simply excited to be in the mix for a starting spot in one of the club’s biggest regular-season games of the year.

‘‘I haven’t got much game time under my belt this season, but I’ve just been biding my time and waiting for my opportunity, and if it comes this Saturday, I’m going to take it with both hands,’’ Pepper said.

‘‘The F3 derbies are the best games to come in for, and it probably suits my style of play as well, being an aggressive player.

‘‘I haven’t had any game time in front of the home crowd this year so it will be great if I get an opportunity.’’

Hurting his chances of selection could be his short but dramatic stint against Western Sydney Wanderers in round six.

Pepper replaced James Brown in the 83rd minute, earned a yellow card for time-wasting when he kicked the ball away in the 84th and then dragged down Shinji Ono to earn a second yellow – and a send-off – in the 89th.

The Jets are without Ryan Griffiths and Josh Mitchell because of suspension and the side have the worst on-field discipline record in the A-League this season.

Pepper admitted his round-six exit had been hard to forget but said he and his teammates needed to take a more measured approach.

‘‘It’s always in the back of your mind and we’ve talked about the card situation.’’

‘‘But I think some of the cards have been pretty soft. 

‘‘It’s always going to be quite an aggressive game, especially in a derby, but we’ve just got to be smart about it.’’

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