BUOYED by Pato Rodriguez’s tantalising cameo, Jets coach Ernie Merrick will unleash the Argentine flyer from the opening whistle against Brisbane at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
Rodriguez scored a goal and cut the Mariners to shreds as the Jets struck late to bury their arch rivals 2-0 at home on Tuesday night.
“I told him to pace himself – I don’t normally say that – and to me he changed the game for us,” Merrick said. “He is a tremendous signing. Credit to [football operations manager] Joel Griffiths for getting him over the line and [CEO] Lawrie McKinna.”
Rodriguez, who had not played a game since leaving AEK Athens in early December, was introduced in the 54th minute for Jason Hoffman and provided an instant spark. He beat three defenders with his first run, was composed on the ball, produced a series of sublime touches and a cool finish to ice the win.
“I actually lied to him,” Merrick said. “I told him he was only going to get 20 minutes, we weren’t going to risk him. I couldn’t take any more of the game after the 50th minute and put him on in the 55th.”
Asked if Rodriguez was a chance of starting against the Roar, Merrick said: “No, he is not a chance to start, he is definitely starting.”
The 27-year-old will play on the left wing in place of in-form rookie Joe Champness, who left for China on Wednesday where he will join the Australian under-23s for the Asian Championships.
The Jets have two days to recover and prepare for a desperate Roar outfit.
“We will use the uni facilities for recovery and massage,” Merrick said.
“They will be getting grapes and a fan. They will be spoilt as much as possible.
“The only good thing, I guess, is that is a home game again. This is one of three straight home games and we really need to take points from them.”
Before Rodriguez’s introduction on Tuesday, the Jets struggled to get out of first gear against a Mariners side which applied pressure, closed down and were dangerous on the break.
“We didn’t play our best football, but to come away with a win and come away with two goals, I’m pretty impressed with the lads,” Merrick said.
While Rodriguez was integral to the Jets winning the match, keeper Glen Moss ensured the home side were still in it when the Argentine was introduced.
The Kiwi made series of spectacular saves, none better than a reflex effort to deny Black Powell from point-blank range two minutes into the second half.
“I have to say also I was really impressed that Glen Moss pulled off two key saves,” Merrick said. “And he had to. That makes a difference when you not only have someone who can score goals but also someone who pulls off those crucial saves.”
Mariner coach Paul Okon was livid about a red card shown to Josh Rose after receiving two yellows from referee Kurt Ams for fouls on Joe Champness in the 63rd and 72nd minutes.
"It's disappointed that the derby ended like it did ... totally unjustified, and that decision ruined the match," Okon said. "The first yellow's not even a yellow, it's a foul on Josh Rose. Champness is backing into him and all Josh does is just sort of move him out of the way."
Merrick was “not sure” if the first booking was warranted but had no doubts about the second.
“If one of our players has a yellow card, whether it be soft or not in the first half, I wouldn’t want him to wrestle someone down to the ground in the second half,” he said. “I don’t like players putting themselves in a position. I can’t stand yellow cards for pulling shirts.”