Newcastle Jets midfield in spotlight against Magic

The pressure is on the Jets’ midfield to show they deserve a spot in Ernie Merrick’s A-League starting side after a below-par showing against Weston last week. 

Merrick said on Tuesday that he wanted to see a sharp improvement in midfield when Newcastle take on in-form Northern NSW NPL side Broadmeadow at Magic Park on Wednesday night. 

The Jets laboured to a 2-0 win over NPL cellar dwellers Weston with Johnny Koutroumbis and Ben Kantarovski in holding midfield behind Englishman Wayne Brown.

Olyroos midfielder Steven Ugarkovic is due back from injury next week and the Jets have identified a South American player to boost their midfield stocks.

The Jets looked flat against Weston after a heavy training load and had another energy-sapping session on Monday, but Merrick said he was looking for more intensity, chances and goals against Magic.

“I was disappointed with our midfield work against Weston,” he said .

“We really need to get hold of the midfield, win it well, transition forward and have a lot more movement from our strikers up front.

“That’s an area we really need to strengthen because the game’s all about scoring goals, and I don’t think we created enough chances, so let’s see if we can create more and score more this week.”

Merrick expects Ugarkovic and defender Nigel Boogaard to return from injury in a closed-door trial against the Mariners on the Central Coast on Wednesday, July 26.

The club is in talks with a South American No.10 and in the market for a striker after the exit of Aleksandr Kokko, but Merrick said the Jets were not close to making an announcement about either.

“I’d like to say we are, but we’re not. We’ll probably have a Chinese player coming out to trial soon, and we’ll try to finalise a key attacking midfielder from overseas.”    

He reiterated that his squad was too young and said he had encouraged some players to find new clubs as their opportunities would be limited.

Centre back Daniel Alessi, who was overlooked for youth team defender Pat Langlois against Weston, is understood to be one of those on the outer, although Merrick would not discuss individual players.   

“I’m not overly happy yet with the mix in the squad. We’ve got probably 15 players in our squad that are under the age of 24 with not a lot of experience behind them. We’ve got nine under-20s, which is too many.

“It’s really about they fast-track forward quickly or in some cases we’ll have to bring other players in, but we’re moving in the right direction with the signings we’ve made.

“I just think that I have to be honest right from the start of their opportunity to play, and there are some players I’ve had a fairly frank discussion with, and they are contracted, so if they want to stay with the club, that’s fine, but I would think it’s a key age group, below the age of 24, to play regular football, and if there’s an opportunity elsewhere, there’s two or three boys I wouldn’t prevent.

“And that’s not that they’re not good players; it’s just that we’ve got too many of them and we’ve got senior players in their positions so it’s going to be unlikely they play.”

Broadmeadow have won six straight games, outscoring their opponents 18-3, and boast former Jets James Virgili, Mitch Oxborrow and Peter Haynes.   

“They’re a good team. They’re one of the top three or four in this competition. They’ve got some ex-A-League players, and I think they’ll be very, very competitive,” Merrick said.

“I hope we raise the intensity of the game. The focus is getting our midfield right and getting the ball forward.”

The Jets will play the Mariners next week after their trial against Hamilton Olympic was called off due to the standard of the lighting at Darling St Oval. Merrick said the Jets would look at playing Olympic in a day game after the NPL season.