VETERAN striker Michael Bridges has vowed to latch onto an unexpected career lifeline and play so well for the rest of the A-League season that Jets coach Gary van Egmond has no option other than to re-sign him.
Bridges has been recalled to van Egmond’s starting line-up for tonight’s important clash with Melbourne Heart at Hunter Stadium, which will be the first time in 11 months he has been on the pitch for the kick-off.
It is understood the 34-year-old English import has been told by Newcastle management he is unlikely to be offered a playing contract for next season, although there may be some role for him working in youth development.
But sources have told the Herald that could change if the former Premier League star states an overwhelming case for retention in coming weeks and there is still room to move under the salary cap.
That is clearly Bridges’s intention. After a short-lived retirement 18 months ago, he said he wanted to keep playing next season, be that in Newcastle or elsewhere.
Asked about the prospect of joining a rival club, Bridges said he would consider that but would prefer to stay with the Jets, for whom he has played 47 games in four seasons.
‘‘Listen, you want to play football as long as you can,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve always said I wanted to stay in this region and do things off the park with the kids.
‘‘There’s opportunities with the Emerging Jets. There’s the youth team here.
‘‘At the end of the day, I’ll make the decision at the end of the season.
‘‘First and foremost I just want to play football until the end of the season.’’
He was confident he could convince van Egmond he still had something to offer.
‘‘I’d like to think so,’’ he said.
"And goals and chances and wins help that.’’
After being persuaded by former coach Branko Culina to retire in 2011, Bridges was clearly in no rush to hang up his boots for a second time.
‘‘I’ve already had the taste of [life] off the field and didn’t enjoy it,’’ he said. ‘‘You want to get back on the park and that’s where I want to be.’’
After eight appearances this season as a substitute, Bridges said he had doubted he would be used by van Egmond in the starting XI.
But he said there was nothing to be gained from sulking.
‘‘It’s a team environment and I’m no bigger than this football club, and the boys know that,’’ he said.
‘‘If you’re not in the team, you work damn hard to get back in. We’ve got a lot of young kids here and you try and set an example.
‘‘Hopefully if you work hard, the chance will come.’’
Tonight Bridges will partner his former England under-19 teammate Emile Heskey up front. The former Premier League stars have played in tandem just three times in Newcastle’s 20 games this season, in stints of eight, 13 and 32 minutes.
Bridges said he hoped to bring a cool head to a new-look team that is likely to feature at least four changes.
‘‘Hopefully I can relax the boys down and not treat the ball as a time bomb,’’ he said.
‘‘You can tell some of the lads are a little bit nervous on the ball at the moment and want to get rid of it.’’
Yet to play in the finals since he joined the Jets, Bridges’s big-game experience could be a priceless asset in the next seven weeks.
‘‘That’s the objective,’’ he said.
‘‘We said we wanted to finish top six.
‘‘We slipped out last week, but it’s so tight down to the bottom that we know this win can get us back in there.
‘‘The positive is that we know we’ve got five home games out of the eight.’’