A-League: Jets roar towards finals but coach not reading fairytale storyline

Crunch: Brisbane defender Ivan Franjic comes down on top of Jets midfielder Riley McGree at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. McGree was outstanding in his first start for the visitors. Pictures: AAP
Crunch: Brisbane defender Ivan Franjic comes down on top of Jets midfielder Riley McGree at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. McGree was outstanding in his first start for the visitors. Pictures: AAP

THE Newcastle Jets marked the 10th anniversary of their 2007-08 A-League title with a 1-0 triumph over Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium to lock up a place in the finals.

PUNCH DRUNK: Roar keeper Jamie Young makes one of a dozen saves on Saturday night.

PUNCH DRUNK: Roar keeper Jamie Young makes one of a dozen saves on Saturday night.

The win strengthened the Jets’ grip on second place – the same position from which the 2008 team launched their championship success – and gave them a 19-point buffer from seventh place with six rounds remaining. There are other startling similarities between the two squads.

Is the symmetry merely a co-incidence or perhaps a sign of things to come?

Jets coach Ernie Merrick, though pleased to have ended the club’s seven-year finals drought, is not reading the fairytale storyline.

“We are on a bit of a roll but I refuse to talk about titles or grand finals,” the experienced boss said. “After the Roar scoreline we are definitely in the top six. We can’t be knocked out of it. What we have to focus on now is being in the top four and maintaining those type of results. Next is Sydney at home.”

Super sub Joey Champness scored the decisive goal in the 79th minute, lifting the lid on what had been a frustrating night for the visitors.

“I thought we pressed the whole game, but we got caught out at the back a few times as well,” Merrick said. “The goalkeepers played a major part. The bottom line is finishing, and we pulled off a finish and nearly got another one at the end.”

It was like a shooting gallery at times on Saturday night. The Jets fired  21 shots, 13 on target, but time and time again were kept out by the herculean efforts of Roar keeper Jamie Young.

“We have beaten Brisbane in all three games this year, and twice Jamie Young has been man of the match,” Merrick said.

Finally Champness, seven minutes after his introduction for a flu-suffering Andrew Nabbout, broke the deadlock.

The 20-year-old made a diagonal run to collect a piercing pass from Steve Ugarkovic and produced a cool finish, sliding a left-foot shot past Young.

“To have our youngsters come on and do so well, especially Joey Champness,” Merrick said. “He is a typical youngster. He is not consistently a high performer but we have got far more out of him this year than I thought we would. If he is in the mood, he is in the mood. He just has an eye for goal and finishes really well.”

Jets keeper jack Duncan was also kept busy, making three spectacular reflex saves, to keep the sixth clean sheet of the campaign.

“Our goalkeeper was outstanding when it counted,” Merrick said. 

Apart from Duncan, Ugarkovic and Riley McGree were superb on a humid energy-sapping night.

“Once again the two centrebacks were outstanding,” Merrick said. “Riley was sensational when he started to play and come inside and then go outside and get a lot of the ball. We didn’t have a bad player on the park. Things are looking really good. The boys are getting fitter moving towards the finals. Ronny Vargas covered 10 kilometres on his own at training Saturday. He is training very hard and will probably be back in about two weeks. Ben Kantarovskis has recovered from his injury so he will be back in.”

However, captain Nigel Boogaard, who made a series of important interceptions, is in doubt for the Sydney clash with a knee issue.