JASON Hoffman continued to revel in his second life as a striker to help steer the Newcastle Jets to a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Brisbane Roar at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
The 28-year-old, who made his debut as an attacker a decade ago but has played the majority of his 171 games at right fullback, scored what proved the decisive goal in the 11th minute.
Had Hoffman’s teammates had their shooting boots on, the Jets could have won in a canter.
Instead, it took some desperate defending and sharp goalkeeping from Glen Moss to secure all three points.
The Jets were in control from the outset and at times it looked a case of by how many.
But the visitors, thanks to some wasteful finishing and the sharp reflexes of keeper Jamie Young hung tough. The further the game went the more dangerous they became.
Ivan Franjic, Matt McKay and Connor O’Toole had golden chances late.
The Jets’ 10th win of the campaign moved them to 33 points and keeps the pressure on Sydney (38 points), who are away to Adelaide on Sunday.
“It was good that we created so many chances but we just didn’t finish them off,” Merrick said. “It was always just a half metre away.”
Hoffman’s goal was straight from the top draw. Daniel Georgievski knocked a pass over the top for Andrew Nabbout, who showed sublime skill to flick the ball with the outside of his boot into the path of Hoffman. The fullback-turned-winger shifted the ball on to his left and lifted a shot over Young for his third goal in five matches.
“He is a great athlete, he is great at running forward, he knows how to get in the box because he was an attacker as a youngsters, so I have just moved him around,” Merrick said.
“He does a good job and scored a terrific goal. He was unlucky not to get two actually.”
The Jets, playing their fourth game in 15 days, went to the break ahead 1-0 after an entertaining opening 45 minutes in which the home side had most of the play.
Young was kept busy and produced two reflex efforts to parry away a Dimi Petratos-bullet and equally venomous shot from Nabbout.
At the other end Moss, didn’t have to make a save, with the Roar restricted to long-range attempts.
Roar coach John Aloisi wielded the axe and made five changes to the side thumped 3-0 by Sydney FC.
In contrast, Merrick made one change from the 2-0 win over the Mariners. He resisted the temptation to promote Argentinian Pato Rodriguez, who scored off the bench in the derby win, and brought in Devante Clut in place of Olyroo Joe Champness.
The Jets lacked their normal zip against the Mariners, but they were quick out of the blocks on Friday.
Nabbout threatened twice early before Hoffman opened their account in the 11th minute with a beautifully-worked goal.
The home side, displaying the pace and power which has propelled them to second place, caused the visitors problems down both flanks.
Rodriguez was introduced for Clut at half time and slipped two defenders with his first run.
“Every time Pato go the ball he was sensational,” Merrick said.
“There was a two footed tackle which I thought was disgraceful. He was nailed properly.”
Thomas Kristensen rugby tackled the Argentinian the second time he received the ball and earned a yellow card. The winger’s third involvement nearly produce a goal with Daniel Georgievski crunching a volley which was tipped over the bar by Young.