FORGOTTEN man Labinot Haliti is set to be recalled for the Jets’ crunch clash with Sydney FC at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
What’s more, the veteran striker could start.
Haliti has played 28 minutes in two appearances off the bench since his return from a knee reconstruction in round two.
But with Morten Nordstrand (hip flexor) under a fitness cloud and Aleksandr Kokko (jaw) sidelined for at least another fortnight, the seasoned front-man looms as a key figure.
“We have found it difficult without a No.9, a target man, to hold the ball up,” coach Mark Jones said. “Labi is someone who you want in your team when he is fully fit and right to go.”
Jones “lost a fair bit of sleep” over the decision to leave Haliti out of the squad which went down 2-0 to the Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Saturday.
With defender Iain Fyfe short on match fitness, Wayne Brown carrying a calf niggle and untried Andy Brennan starting, Jones needed cover on the bench.
“It was extremely difficult not to take Labi to Melbourne,” the coach said. “We knew that there were some people who might not last a full game. It limits who you put on the bench if you know that one player definitely has to come off and maybe another one.”
However, Jones didn’t bank on Nordstrand having to be replaced at half-time. The Dane was still feeling tightness in his hip flexor on Monday. He will be assessed later in the week but Jones was hopeful that he would be available for the second clash in five weeks against the runaway leaders.
Haliti reacted to his omission by scoring a spectacular goal in the youth team’s 2-all draw with the Mariners on Saturday.
“He responded the right way,” Jones said. “It’s hard for him to have to go back and play youth league. It is a dent to his pride. But it was good for him to get some game time and match fitness. His attitude has been exceptional. It’s a team game and we need to keep everyone doing what is best for the team, and Labi understands that.”
The Jets had a season-low 35% of possession against Victory.
“We turned the ball over in transition quite a bit,” Jones said. “In the first half we defended really well but there were moments in transition we could have done better.”
A lack of ball has been an ongoing issue. The only game the Jets have finished in front in the possession stakes was the 2-0 loss to Wellington in which they had 50.1%.
“We have tried to play out … our biggest downfall so far has been our ability to keep the ball in transition,” Jones said. “We need people who are confident on the ball.”