NEWCASTLE Jets appear likely to field another depleted squad when they tackle Perth Glory at nib Stadium on Saturday night.
Minus Ronny Vargas (broken ankle), Roy O’Donovan (groin), Daniel Georgievski (knee), Jack Duncan (foot) and Nick Cowburn (knee), Newcastle suffered their first home loss of the season on Saturday night, 2-1 to Melbourne City.
The Jets nonetheless remained second on the A-League points table after the first third of the season, five points behind leaders Sydney, and a point ahead of third-placed City.
Jets coach Ernie Merrick indicated O’Donovan, Newcastle’s leading scorer, was close to returning.
Newcastle were undefeated in six games before the Irishman was injured, but have lost two of their three games in his absence.
“Roy wants to play now, of course, but you’ve got to protect him from himself,” Jets coach Ernie Merrick said.
“Within two weeks we should have three or four players back, for sure.
“We’ve got the away trip to Perth next week, and that’s pretty tough to bring an injured player in and send him over on that flight. So I’m not sure we’ll have them back for next week, but the following week is looking pretty good.”
Merrick said marquee signing Vargas, who suffered a broken and dislocated left ankle playing against Brisbane in round three, was on track to return in “early March or late February”, which will give him at least a month to gain match fitness before the play-offs.
“The good news with Ronny is he got his moon boot off yesterday and the surgeon is really happy,” Merrick said.
“He’s progressing now onto weight-bearing, so he’s walking around and he can put weight on it.”
Roy wants to play now, of course, but you’ve got to protect him from himself.Ernie Merrick
Newcastle opened the scoring against City in the 31st minute when in-form Andrew Nabbout picked up his fifth goal in the past five games.
City equalised 10 minutes later, after Jets skipper Nigel Boogaard conceded a disputed penalty and Ross McCormack scored from the spot. City’s Manny Muscat scored the game-breaker in the 85th minute after a goalmouth scramble, and the home team were unable to find an equaliser in the dying minutes.
“I thought we played extremely well in the first half,” Merrick said.
“Considering we had five under-20s in the squad, and three of them started, I thought we played some great football … right to the end we were pushing numbers forward and with a wee bit of luck, we might have got a tap-in.”
Asked if he was satisfied with Newcastle’s position one-third of the way through the season, Merrick replied: “I’m pretty happy that we’ve played nine games and only lost two.”