A-League: Hired gun O'Donovan primed to strike for Jets | video, photos

LOCKED AND LOADED: Coach Ernie Merricks expects striker Roy O'Donovan to be better for his return game and extra week of training when the Jets take on Wanderers at Spotless Stadium on Friday. Picture: Sproule Sports Focus
LOCKED AND LOADED: Coach Ernie Merricks expects striker Roy O'Donovan to be better for his return game and extra week of training when the Jets take on Wanderers at Spotless Stadium on Friday. Picture: Sproule Sports Focus

NEWCASTLE Jets coach Ernie Merrick can see it in the body language and more importantly in the timing of his runs – Roy O’Donovan is back in the groove.

O’Donovan worked tirelessly but didn’t have a major impact, firing two shots, in the Jets’ 2-0 win over Melbourne Victory last round.

The 65-minute shift was the striker’s first back after missing eight games with a torn groin.

O’Donovan set the tone for the campaign with a hat-trick on debut for the Jets in a 5-1 demolition of his former club in the opening round. He couldn’t stop scoring, netting seven goals in six games before the first of two stints on the sideline due to separate issues with his adductor.

Now fully recovered, Merrick has used the weekend off due to the split round to put “miles into the legs” of the goal-hungry Irishman and expects him to be primed for the clash away to Wanderers on Friday.

“He is getting sharper,” Merrick said. “I think it is the timing of his runs, they are getting better and better. The timing and the running of the front four, and the passing and interchanging of Roy, Pato Rodriguez, Dimi Petratos and Andrew Nabbout, has been first class.

“Against Victory, our defensive play was first class. We just didn’t put it really well together going forward, yet we still scored two goals. We want to have the same very tight defensive play, particularly in midfield, and then get forward with a bit more slick passing.”

Rodriguez, after bursting on to the scene with a goal and an assist in his opening two matches, has not had the same influence in three subsequent starts.

I think it is the timing of his runs, they are getting better and better.

- Ernie Merrick

“Pato has never really been a goal-scorer,” Merrick said. “He has always been a person who delivers crosses into the box. Now he is getting in the box and scoring some fantastic goals at training. I have to get him to do that more often in matches. He is one of a couple of players who are fairly new. Riley McGree is getting the hang of how we play. If we can take advantage of the next seven weeks, we can be a better team in the finals and that is what we are focused on.”

Merrick had also hoped to have injured marquee midfielder Ronny Vargas in the mix over the next fortnight but the Venezuelan international is now unlikely to return for at least another month.

“Ronny’s target was the Sydney game, but if he is going to make that on the March 3, he is going to have to step up his program big time,” Merrick said.

“I still feel we will have him in plenty of time for the finals. to get two or three full games under his belt.”