DIMI Petratos has been almost untouchable for the Newcaste Jets this season.
The winger-turned-creative-playmaker sits second in the Fox Sports player-of-the-year voting and is near the top in every major attacking statistic in the league.
He has scored five goals and provided six assists as well as six secondary assists and a total of 16 goal involvements. The 25-year-old has fired 33 shots on goal, delivered 132 balls into the box, has 36 shot assists and won 17 corners.
Those type of numbers command extra attention.
Melbourne Victory’s tactics were clear from the outset in their 2-1 win over the Jets on Friday.
Carl Valeri and Mark Milligan tag-teamed Petratos. When they weren’t at his heels, Rhys Williams clattered him from behind.
The ploy worked for the majority. Petratos had two shots, both off target, and provided two shot assists.
“There is no doubt Dimi will be someone who other defences focus on,” Jets coach Ernie Merrick said. “Millsy and Valeri did a really good job on him. Dimi’s challenge is to not make that job easier for them by coming too deep with his back to goal. He has to stay in high positions, turn early when he gets the ball and use the players around him. When they are two-on-one there must be other players free.
“Even though they did mark him tightly, he still put in a couple of sensational crosses. They can mark him as tight as they like but he is still going to cause any opposition problems.”
Merrick expects Sydney coach Graham Arnold to adopt a similar approach, handing Brandon O’Neill and Josh Brillante the job on Petratos at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday night.
“I did a one-on-one video session with Dimi this morning,” Merrick said. “I showed him where he made it easy for the opposition and where he is making it very difficult. He will learn from the Victory game and put those things into practice. It a credit to him that teams are looking out for him. He has become such a good player.”
The Jets will be without Nigel Boogaard (concussion) and Ivan Vujica (suspended) for the trip south but Merrick hopes to have Ben Kantarovski (back) and Johnny Koutroumbis (hip) on deck.
“Nigel has concussion so we are playing it safe with him,” Merrick said. “Lachlan Jackson will probably come into his position. The physio is working with Johnny and Ben. We won’t know until Tuesday if they are available and whether they can play a full game or not. Everyone else is on notice to be prepared to get on the bus to Sydney tomorrow.”
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“Everyone else” includes youth team duo Angus Thurgate and Pat Langlois who have beem training with the A-League squad.
“We had a couple of 17-year-olds training and I have to say that they did extremely well,” Merrick said. “They could get a call up to be on the bench.”
Daniel Georgievski returns from a knee injury in place of Vujica at left back.
“Daniel is a very good defender but he is an exceptional attacker as well,” Merrick said. “He overlaps and creates lots of chances. His last game against Victory he scored a tremendous goal with his left foot. I’m not sure he will get through 90 minutes on Wednesday, but it is good to have him back starting.”
Sydney FC are eight points clear of the Jets in first place and are fresh from a 6-0 demolition of Perth Glory.
“Nothing really intimidates me and I’m hoping our players either,” Merrick said. “I think it is a good thing to play another top side after playing Victory. You learn a lot from a game like that and it is really good to put it into practice under the same sort of pressure. There is no doubt that Sydney at home are a tough team. They keep turning out the same squad, they are all experienced and don’t seem to suffer the same injuries we have and don’t have any suspensions. But we can still play our brand of attacking football.”