VETERAN Michael Bridges will start his first game in almost a year as Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond rolls out a new-look squad in Friday night’s pivotal showdown with Melbourne Heart at Hunter Stadium.
Van Egmond has run out of patience with some of his under-performing players after last week’s lacklustre 2-1 loss to Western Sydney Wanderers left Newcastle in seventh place and under mounting pressure in the tightrope walk to the finals.
On Wednesday he outlined at least four changes to his starting XI.
The most notable of those was the inclusion of Bridges, who has been a peripheral figure this season, used sparingly off the bench.
On Friday night, however, the 34-year-old striker will partner his former England under-19 teammate Emile Heskey from the outset.
It will be Bridges’s first appearance in the starting line-up since March 25 last year, when he scored a goal in Newcastle’s 3-2 loss to Sydney.
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Joining Bridges and Heskey in the front third will be Socceroos representative Adam Taggart, while at the other end of the pitch, Taylor Regan and Dominik Ritter have been assured of starting positions, most likely at the expense of Josh Mitchell and Scott Neville.
‘‘I think there’s a need to change,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘On form there’s a couple of players who don’t deserve to play. Hence we have to make changes.’’
Mitchell’s hopes of hanging onto his spot appear slim, but an injury to Connor Chapman, who could not train yesterday because of a torn ligament in his ankle, may offer a reprieve.
The elevation of Bridges, used as a substitute in eight games this season for a total of 126 minutes, will be popular with fans.
But van Egmond said he was picking a team to win games, not merely to win favour.
‘‘Bridgey deserves it,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s not done for the fact that people think that it should be happening. As I’ve said before, if I listened to the fans, there is a good chance I’ll be sitting with the fans.
‘‘He deserves his opportunity to get there because maybe other players haven’t done as well as what we might have liked.’’
Van Egmond said Newcastle were ‘‘going with a relatively attacking line-up’’ and was hopeful the combination of Heskey and Bridges would pay dividends.
The former Premier League stars have been on the pitch together only three times this season, in stints of eight, 13 and 32 minutes.
Taggart showed enough in his 28 minutes against the Wanderers to earn his first start since he scored twice for the Socceroos in December at the East Asian Cup qualifying tournament in Hong Kong.
‘‘Taggs will definitely start,’’ van Egmond said. ‘‘We need more people in that front third who have better instincts in the box to score.’’
He said he would again give his back four a makeover, starting with the reinstatement of Regan and Ritter.
Neville was ‘‘down on confidence’’ and would benefit from a break.
‘‘He’s in that boat and possibly Josh Mitchell as well,’’ he said.
Van Egmond said back-to-back home games against the Heart and Brisbane Friday week would be crucial to Newcastle’s finals hopes.
‘‘‘We want to ensure that we take maximum points this weekend, and once you do that, more pressure starts to build on other teams.’’