A-League: Jets coach Ernie Merrick disappointed with difficult draw facing Newcastle in 2018-19

DISAPPOINTED: Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick during last season's A-League grand final. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
DISAPPOINTED: Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick during last season's A-League grand final. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Jets coach Ernie Merrick feels “disappointed” with the “difficult draw” facing Newcastle in 2018-19 and has called on A-League officials to rethink schedules and squad sizes in the future.  

Speaking to the Newcastle Herald from the Chinese headquarters of Jets’ owner Martin Lee in Shenzhen, Merrick voiced his frustration at a jam-packed new year period with only 23 players available.

The official draw was released on Thursday, 100 days out from the season opener, with Newcastle twice facing four matches in the space of a fortnight (December 30 to February 1) just before a home-and-away Asian Champions League qualifying play-off.

Compounding that issue will be parallel Socceroos commitments, possibly including Jets’ World Cup representative Dimi Petratos, at the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates from January 5 to February 1. 

“It’s a really difficult draw for us,” Merrick said.

“You’ve only got 20 senior guys and three youngsters in your squad and you’re trying to cram all these games into six or seven months.

“And if you’re successful with the Asian Champions League qualifiers, it just makes life even more difficult.

“On top of that you’ve got Asian Cup and I seem to recall a lot of A-League players being used previously [for the Socceroos]. I had at least two or three when I was down at Victory.

“January, February and March are going to be particularly busy.”

Merrick said he understood Football Federation Australia (FFA) were restricted by “stadium availability” and “cross-over with NRL and AFL”, however, the experienced mentor thought “reviewing” the current situation and “overcoming some of those obstacles” would be beneficial “sooner rather than later”. 

FFA’s head of A-League Greg O’Rourke justified the decision and addressed the Asian Cup double up in a statement, saying the construction of the draw allows “a natural flow from one competition to the other” and features 31 club games played across 27 days. 

Merrick was also unhappy with Newcastle, who hosted the A-League grand final on May 5, not playing at home until round three (November 3) following away trips to Wellington (October 21) and Adelaide (October 26). 

Meanwhile, the A-League announced on Thursday it would follow the example set by the NRL's bunker and the World Cup in Russia by creating a centralised facility for the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system in 2018-19.

AAP reports it comes in response to the technical glitch that marred last season’s grand-final loss for the Jets in Newcastle, with all VAR decisions now to be made in the same location.

It should mean there is sufficient back-up in the event of another software failure, like the one that occurred just before Melbourne Victory's Kosta Barbarouses scored the only goal of the 2017-18 decider.

There was a clear offside in the build-up, but the VAR was unable to intervene because of the embarrassing malfunction.