JETS coach Ernie Merrick admits his team face a dramatic rise in class when they tackle Perth on Sunday but says they have nothing to fear against the A-League leaders.
Newcastle broke a three-game losing streak with a 1-0 win at home to last-placed Central Coast on Wednesday, but must now back it up by flying across the Nullabor to take on the Glory, who are two points clear on top of the table and are unbeaten in their past six games.
A candid Merrick labelled Wednesday’s result “a bit of an ugly win” but was confident it could yet prove to be a turning point in Newcastle’s season.
“Well, that’s the hope isn’t it?” Merrick said. “You’re hoping that it’s the start of gaining some momentum and kicking on. But two tough away games, Perth and then Wanderers. But we can do it. We can do it.”
Merrick said the trip to Perth – where Newcastle have won only three times in 19 attempts – would be a challenge, but he expects to have close to his best squad available for selection.
“I feel as though we can match anyone,” he said.
“When we played them here, we dominated the game and lost [2-0]. If you recall, I think we had twice as many scoring shots as they had.
“So we’re capable of taking anyone on, and now that we’ve rested a few and they’re ready to come back in, we’ll have a very strong squad for Perth. It’s probably worked out really well for us in that rotation.”
Newcastle’s win against the Mariners, along with draws by Adelaide and Wellington, closed the gap between the Jets and the top six to eight points.
“Go over to Perth and get a win and you start building momentum [and] belief in your ability,” Merrick said.
The veteran coach faces some welcome selection headaches after making wholesale changes to his line-up in their last outing.
Skipper Nigel Boogaard heads the list of players likely to return to the starting side.
Boogaard was rested against the Mariners, while Jason Hoffman was serving a one-game suspension.
South American imports Ronny Vargas and Jair both made cameo appearances off the bench.
All four are expected to be considered for the run-on side this week, while midfielder Ben Kantarovski is close to returning from a groin strain.
“They’re all putting their hands up … as far as I know there’s no injuries, Merrick said.
“Even Ben [Kantarovski] is not far away, and Jason comes off his suspension. He needed a rest anyway.
“It’s good. I’ve got a lot of boys to pick from, but again, it’s another away game in Perth. But I think we’ll cope quite well.”
Boogaard will no doubt be eager to make amends after conceding an own goal in the 1-0 loss to Sydney in Newcastle’s previous game.
“He’ll be back in,” Merrick said.
“I felt we missed his organisation at the back, so he’ll be a big plus.”
Perth (31) have scored more than twice as many goals this season as Newcastle (15), but Merrick was pleased with the grit his players have shown in defence.
“The main thing is we’ve been fighting hard every week and we got three points from fighting hard,” he said.