HIS team are unbeaten after five games and have scored more goals than any rival outfit in the A-League, but Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick believes they are at least a month away from showing their true potential.
Newcastle’s dream start to 2017-18 continued on Saturday night when they dispatched Wellington 3-0 at McDonald Jones Stadium, in what Merrick described as their best all-round performance since he assumed the reins.
They now have three wins and two draws to their name and are third on the ladder with 11 points, behind only Melbourne City (12) and Sydney FC (13).
Already they have scored 13 goals, almost half as many as they did last season (28), when they finished with the wooden spoon.
But Merrick has no doubt his team have plenty of scope for improvement.
He said most teams take “about eight or nine games” to find peak form, although defending champions Sydney were an obvious exception, “because they’ve had that team together for so long now, and they’ve added two or three quality players”.
“With us, our starting line-up, half of them are new,” Merrick said. “It’ll take us about nine games to be playing at our best.
“Then it’s a case of maintaining it and trying to make sure we’ve got the depth when we lose players like [Ronny] Vargas and [Daniel] Georgievski. We covered for those really well today.”
Newcastle next face testing away games against Adelaide on Saturday and Sydney a week later, and Merrick said that would provide a gauge of their progress.
“Adelaide’s playing really well, and Sydney’s unbeatable this season, so I think it’s a good challenge, but it’s at the right time,” he said.
“We’ve had a couple of games at home and now we’ve set ourselves up to play our best football away from home.
“It will be quite a challenge and a good indication of whether we’re getting to our best and continuing to improve or not.”
Irish import Roy O’Donovan continued his hot streak on Saturday, scoring twice against Wellington in the first half to take his tally for the season to seven goals – three more than any other player in the A-League.
Newcastle’s other goal from winger Andrew Nabbout in the second half, his first of the campaign.
“I thought that was a very pleasing performance and everyone, all the team, should be pretty happy with that performance and set themselves another goal to improve on that again,” Merrick said.
“I don’t give them outcomes to focus on, I give them processes, what their job entails. See if they can do it better, with more possession, more forward passes, more balls in the box, more tackles, etcetera.”
At the other end of the pitch, Newcastle were rock solid and kept their opponents scoreless for the first time in 13 games.
“I’ve never been that worried about clean sheets,” Merrick said.
“It’s certainly a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s making sure you score more goals than the opposition, rather than conceding less.”
Wellington coach Darije Kalezic said Newcastle were a “physically aggressive” team.
“They use that as a strength and a maximum,” he said.
“All the points that they want come from that factor.”
Merrick said Newcastle would not resort to safety-first football during their two games on the road.
“One thing I’ve tried to instill, and I think the boys have taken it on board, is that it doesn’t matter if we’re home or away, we’re going for a win,” he said.