NEWCASTLE Jets management have vowed to show total support for Ernie Merrick, including paying any possible fine he might incur, in the aftermath of the coach’s criticism of match officials in Friday night’s 2-all draw with Western Sydney.
Newcastle conceded two goals from dubious penalty decisions, and had one disallowed after an equally contentious ruling by the Video Assistant Referee, prompting Merrick to describe the officating as “a disgrace” at full-time.
That prompted Head of the A-League, Greg O'Rourke, to contact Newcastle chief executive Lawrie McKinna over the weekend to inform him that Merrick's comments were likely to be scrutinised and could lead to a possible sanction.
“FFA will review his post-match comments to understand if there will be any further action,” O’Rourke told Fairfax Media.
McKinna was hopeful the powers-that-be would take into account the extenuating “heat of the moment” circumstances but said the Jets would defend Merrick, if necessary.
“I’m backing Ernie to the hilt,” McKinna told the Newcastle Herald.
“He’s passionate and he made his point. I’m sure by Monday he will have cooled down and be looking forward to the next game.”
Asked who would pay any fine that might be imposed, McKinna replied: “It just depends. It could be a personal fine or a club fine, we don’t know.
“But I’m sure that, in the circumstances, if the FFA fined Ernie, the club would pay.”
Merrick became the latest in a long line of coaches, both in Australia and overseas, left fuming about VAR decisions, even though he had previously endorsed the system on a number of occasions.
On Friday he was also critical of referee Peter Green, asking: “Does the referee make decisions anymore or does he wait for the VAR to confirm everything?”
Merrick voiced his frustration in a live interview on Foxtel and at the post-match media conference.
“I thought it was a disgraceful refereeing performance,” he said.
“We scored three good goals. One was chalked off and they scored two penalties, both of which were very dubious. I got to the stage where I was wondering who the referee was, the person in the middle of the park or the VAR.
“And I've been a fan of the VAR until today."
Merrick said “it's going to be a long drawn-out process to play a game of football” if the VAR was constantly intervening.
He warned that “if that's the way things are going to go then I don't think many people will come and watch the game.”
He added that in the second half, "I was more worried about the refereeing decisions than I was about the opposition”.
His main cause for concern was a controversial hand-ball penalty awarded against defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley after a split-second ricochet.
According to the laws of the game, players should be penalised for handling the ball only if the offence was deemed deliberate.
Topor-Stanley conceded an earlier, debatable penalty for what appeared unintentional contact with Western Sydney’s Marcelo Carrusca.
After twice fighting back from deficits to equalise, Newcastle appeared to have grabbed the lead when Jason Hoffman and Wanderers keeper Vedran Janjetovic contested a cross, which bounced into the goal.
The VAR ruled Hoffman had fouled Janjetovic, a ruling Merrick described as “ridiculous”.
“There was no way that Jason threw his arms across the goalkeeper’s arms,” Merrick said.
“He went for the ball, the goalkeeper threw the ball in the net, and it was a goal.”
Merrick will be hoping FFA officials show him the same leniency that they have extended to several of his rival coaches this season, in particular Central Coast’s Paul Okon, who has criticised the VAR on more than one occasion.
“We’re hoping that maybe they will look at the incidents, look at what Ernie said, and think that maybe he had due cause to say what he said,” McKinna said.