NEWCASTLE will need to start an A-League record-equalling streak against F3 Derby rivals Central Coast on Wednesday night to make the top six.
And coach Ernie Merrick is counting on home crowd support to spark them into action.
Despite a “flat” performance in a 1-0 loss to Sydney FC last Saturday, Merrick said he felt Newcastle will still “definitely make the top six and play in the finals”.
The odds are against the Jets rising from seventh spot and 12 points after 14 rounds. They are 10 points outside the top six and a $6 chance with the TAB to feature in the finals.
If they can bridge the gap, they will join Perth’s 2015-16 squad and Brisbane’s 2014-15 team to qualify after sitting on 12 points after 14 games. Perth finished fifth on 43 points and Brisbane climbed to sixth on 34, although Roar’s effort was helped by Glory’s expulsion from the play-offs because of salary cap infringements.
No team have made it to finals from less points at the same stage across nine seasons featuring top-six play-offs. The Jets were sixth on 34 points in 2009-10 after earning 16 in the first 14 games.
The Jets’ most recent win was a comeback 2-1 victory over Central Coast at Gosford in round nine. A five-game winless streak, featuring three consecutive one-goal away losses, has increased the pressure on Merrick’s squad, who were the toast of the league last season in their rise to second place and the grand final from the wooden spoon.
Merrick believed a big home crowd “would help us get over the line” against the last-placed Mariners and revive their finals chances.
“I’m convinced that with the resilience of this team, with the fact we’ve really got just about everyone on board and the quality of players that we’ve got, even in these difficult times, I think we’ll come good the second half of the season,” Merrick said.
“After the Wanderers game [in round 17], I think we’ve got three home games to catch up on and that makes a big difference, so I’d love our crowds to come out.
“Every home game we have, the bigger the crowd, the better for us.
“We’ve been in with a good chance of three points, not just one point, for every game, and remember, there are 39 points to play for now, so I feel as though if we could go on a run and win two or three games in a row, it would make a big difference.”