ERNIE Merrick has no concerns about the physical fitness of marquee player Ronny Vargas but the Jets coach will not rush the attacking midfielder into action.
“The bottom line is that we are winning."Ernie Merrick
The Jets beat Wellington Phoenix 2-1 at Jack McLaughlan Oval on Saturday in their final hit against A-League opposition before the season opener against Central Coast Mariners in Gosford on October 7.
They will play a local team next weekend before finalising preparations with an intraclub game.
Vargas arrived in Newcastle on Sunday and will undergo a medical before meeting his teammates on Monday. The attacking midfielder’s last game for AEK Athens was on May 17, and he has since been working with a personal trainer and attending training with Belgian club Antwerp.
“Ronny Vargas will be physically fit but he won’t be match fit,” Merrick said. “He will need at least a week of solid training under his belt. I doubt that he will play the local friendly but we will not make a final decision until later in the week. There is nothing worse than bringing someone in and everyone else is match fit. We will test him in a number of areas before he plays.”
However, Merrick is confident that the Venezuelan international will be ready to go in round one.
“I must commend [football operations manager] Joel Griffiths,” Merrick said. “He was the one who kept persisting. I didn’t think we were going to get Ronny over the line. Joel did a great job and we have a really top-class player coming into our squad.”
The win over the Phoenix was the Jets’ third straight against A-League rivals.
Roy O’Donovan latched on to a clever ball from Wayne Brown to put the Jets ahead in the 34th minute. His goal was cancelled out by an Andrija Kaludjerovic header in the 64th minute before Joe Champness scored a winner for a second straight game, crunching a lobbed pass by O’Donovan with a left-foot volley in the 80th minute.
“It was pretty scrappy but you can’t play terrific football every game,” Merrick said. “The bottom line is that we are winning. Given that is the third A-League win in a row, it shows we are getting consistency. We are scoring goals and creating lots of chances. I’d like to put more away. It wasn’t pretty but it was a win. Leading into the first round on October 7, I am pretty happy with that.”
Merrick praised front duo O’Donovan and Andrew Nabbout and centrebacks Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley who “won everything in the air”.
However, he was disappointed with the lack of play through midfield.
“We had some good chances in the first half, but then we reverted to playing long balls,” he said.