NEWCASTLE Jets coach Gary van Egmond is optimistic at the chances of securing former Socceroos winger Nathan Burns from Korean Club Incheon United.
The Jets opened their pre-season account with a hard- fought 3-0 win over Lake Macquarie at Macquarie Field on Wednesday night.
Celtic and former Scottish youth international James Keatings staked his claim for a contract with an eye-catching display in tough conditions, but van Egmond confirmed that Burns was his No.1 target.
The 25-year-old winger is contracted to Incheon but made just three appearances in the K-league last season and is keen to return to Australia, where he starred for Adelaide United, to push for World Cup selection.
A left-footer, Burns would be a direct replacement for Ryan Griffiths, who left the Jets for Chinese club Beijing Baxy midway through last season.
‘‘We only have a couple of spots left, one at the back and one further forward,’’ van Egmond said. ‘‘Burns is getting pretty close. Hopefully we find out sooner rather than later and get him here as soon as possible.
‘‘He is not getting much game time in Korea and like a number of them is looking to come back and get under the nose of the national coach.’’
Keatings, 21, spent a week at Brisbane Roar before arriving at the Jets.
A Scotland representative at under16s, 17s and 19s, he came through the Celtic youth system. After going on loan to St Johnstone and Hamilton Academical, he returned to Celtic and sat on the bench in four of the final six games for the Scottish Premier League champions.
‘‘Technically he is very good,’’ van Egmond said. ‘‘He is a lefty and like most lefties he is a lovely passer of the ball. His positioning and reading of play was also excellent.
‘‘We will see what pans out with Nathan Burns and go from there.’’
The Jets have been in training for six weeks but last night was their first hit-out after wet weather played havoc with games against Newcastle University and Plattsburg-Maryland.
Fielding a spare-parts line-up and adopting a new 3-4-3 formation, it took the Jets until midway through the second of three 30-minute periods to open up the Roosters defence.
Sam Gallaway, who had been pushed forward to left wing-back, won possession, burst into the box and slid a shot under Roosters keeper Adam Salt. Ben Kantarovski, who was outstanding, made it 2-0 a minute later when he curled a 20-metre effort inside the right post.
Youth team midfielder Bobby Russell completed the scoring early in the third term with a deflected shot.
The Jets were without Socceroos Ruben Zadkovich, Craig Goodwin and Mark Birighitti and Young Socceroos Adam Taggart, Josh Brilliante, Andrew Hoole and Connor Chapman. Michael Bridges and Zenon Caravella played the opening third and the rest of the senior squad made it through about 60 minutes.
‘‘It is important that we get as many games as possible,’’ van Egmond said. ‘‘We are very grateful to Lake Macquarie.
‘‘We tried a new system tonight and were mindful to make sure players got through certain workloads.’’
The Jets controlled possession for large periods but struggled to unlock a compact and organised defence.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between in the first term as Bridges, Keatings, Caravella and James Virgili reverted to long-range efforts.
‘‘That is the challenge,’’ van Egmond said. ‘‘You are going to play against teams who park the bus and you have to find a solution.’’
Centre back Dylan Murphy and midfielders Simon Mooney and Peter McPherson were outstanding for a gallant Roosters outfit.
‘‘I was proud of the effort,’’ Lake Macquarie coach Chris Turner said. ‘‘We set out to play in a way that the Jets will come up against. Stay compact, play it along the deck with short, sharp passes
‘‘I think we achieved that and gave them a good hit-out.’’
They Jets will break for 10 days from Saturday.
The next phase of their pre-season includes games against Weston, Northern Select and the ACT before stepping up to A-League opposition in late August against Wellington Phoenix.