NEWCASTLE coach Ernie Merrick was not disappointed when the Jets were drawn to play Melbourne City rather than one of the non A-League clubs in the next round of the FFA Cup.
On the surface, a date with one of the 10 National Premier League outfits would seem an easier task in the knockout competition.
But Merrick pointed to the difficulty the Jets encountered in a 1-0 win over third-tier Gold Coast Knights on Tuesday night as an example of the danger a minnow can pose.
Admittedly the Jets were decidedly flat, having returned 24 hours earlier from Spain, where they played three games in five days.
“I am happy we are playing an A-League side,” Merrick said. “It is of more benefit to us. Sometimes when you play another A-League side, you are at the same stage in preparation. The Knights got stronger as the game went on. They are virtually at the end of their season, were well organised and match fit. We are not match fit. There was no doubt our boys faded in the final 20 minutes and were pretty tired. Credit to Gold Coast, they really pushed us to the end.
“It was the first time Newcastle has got through the first round of the FFA Cup. We had to dig deep to do it, which was a credit to the boys. We are now pretty keen to beat City and take another step forward in the FFA Cup.”
A date for the City clash is yet to be finalised. The round of 16 will be played on August 21 and 22 and the following Tuesday and Wednesday.
Apart from being better rested, the Jets will welcome back Ronny Vargas and Nigel Boogaard, who sat out the Knights game.
“We really missed Ronny,” Merrick said. “Nigel would have structured the backline a bit better. Both will be on deck for City. [Against the Knights] Glen Moss was outstanding and so was Dimi Petratos. Dimi ran the show in midfield and was a real threat with his shots and freekicks. To get Ronny in as well, we virtually play with two No.10s in those two.”
The Jets beat City 2-1 in the preliminary final last season and were scheduled to meet them in a friendly in Melbourne next week, which has been canned.
The Jets also have friendlies planned against the Mariners and Sydney.
The clash against the Central Coast at Maitland Sportsground on August 25 is a week after Usain Bolt begins training in Gosford.
A Mariners official ruled out an appearance, on or off the field, by the eight-time gold medalist in Maitland much to the displeasure of Merrick.
“If he was playing it would be a good experience for the boys,” he said. “It would certainly attract a crowd. I reckon if a ball went in behind our back four, he would be first there. Hopefully it works out for the Mariners. It has created a bit of excitement.”
The Jets could have a couple of additions of their own by the Maitland hit out.
“We need two attacking players and another goalkeeper,” Merrick said. “The window in most European leagues closes at the end of August. There is nothing really on the radar that is close yet.”