It’s one taking on two as the competition’s best performing teams lock horns in a mouth-watering Hyundai A-League clash this Saturday.
The top-of-the-table fixture is the first of its kind in the Hunter for a number of years, as Sydney FC make their way to Newcastle for arguably the toughest test of their campaign.
The runaway competition leaders have suffered only one loss this season, but have been pushed all the way in their two clashes with the Jets – for one victory (Round 7) and a draw (Round 14).
Jets’ boss, Ernie Merrick was looking forward to hosting the current Champions, but isn’t pinning his team’s fortunes on a match six weeks out from finals.
“I think it’s important (to win), the more wins you have during the regular season the better,” said Merrick.
“For us to know that we’ve beaten the top team in league is always a plus and will certainly give the boys plenty of confidence – but if we don’t get a result, it’s certainly not the end of the world.”
When pressed on whether he’d be keeping his cards close to his chest as the Finals Series approached, Merrick said his team would be playing as they have all year.
“We always play to win – home or away – and that won’t be any different this week, we always want to play a brand of football that wins game so we won’t be holding back this Saturday,” added Merrick.
“We treat every game as a ‘must win’ game, we play to win every week by getting on the front foot and playing an attacking style of football.
“I’m always pushing the boys to play better football, have more successful passes, more shots on target – reaching goals we’ve set collectively, but ensuring we improve as individuals.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of this Newcastle team yet and that’s the most exciting part.”
Jets’ skipper, Nigel Boogaard remains under an injury cloud after picking up a minor knee injury in the closing stages of last week’s game against the Roar.
The towering centre back has been integral to the Jets’ success this season, in partnership with Nikolai Topor-Stanley.
“Nigel wants to play, that’s the sort of character he is, he trained today on a modified program so we’ll see how he pulls up and make a judgment on Friday,” said Merrick.
“He (Boogaard) and Nikolai are the best centre back paring in the league and the stats show that, the way they intercept and win the ball has just been exceptional – so having both of them on the pitch is important for us but I’m not going to risk him at the point in the season.”
Ben Kantarovski joins the match day squad as he returns from a minor hamstring complaint, as the remainder of the squad from last week’s win over the Roar goes unchanged.
By the numbers:
- Nigel Boogaard has made 116 clearances this campaign, the second-most of any player behind only Alex Wilkinson (131).
- Newcastle and Sydney FC have each made 125 shots on target so far this campaign, more than any other teams in the competition.
- Newcastle Jets have already earned seven wins at home this season, never before in their A-League tenure have they picked up eight home wins in a single campaign.
Saturday, 3 March 2018
Newcastle Jets v Sydney FC
McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-Off: 5:35 PM AEDT
Referee: Chris Beath
TV Broadcast: Live coverage on FOX SPORTS 501 from 5.00pm (AEDT)
Radio Broadcast: myfootballnation.com (SWR 999). ABC News on Radio, Grandstand Digital, Online & via the ABC Listen App – A-League Live.
To purchase tickets: http://bit.ly/RAAFround
Join the conversation on Twitter using the hash-tag #NEWvSYD
Newcastle Jets: 1.Jack DUNCAN (gk), 3.Jason HOFFMAN, 4.Nigel BOOGAARD (c), 5.Ben KANTAROVSKI, 6.Steven UGARKOVIC, 7.Dimitri PETRATOS, 9.Roy O’DONOVAN, 10.Wayne BROWN, 13.Ivan VUJICA, 15.Andrew NABBOUT, 16.Nick COWBURN, 17.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI, 18.Johnny KOUTROUMBIS, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 22.Lachlan JACKSON, 24.Joseph CHAMPNESS, 27.Riley MCGREE, 44.Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY
**two to be omitted**
Ins: 5.Ben KANTAROVSKI (return from injury), 16.Nick COWBURN (promoted), 18.Johnny KOUTROUMBIS (promoted)
Outs: 32.Angus THURGATE (omitted)
Unavailable: 8.Ronald VARGAS (ankle – indefinite), 11.Patricio RODRIGUEZ (calf – 4 weeks)
Sydney FC squad: 1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 2.Aaron CALVER, 3.Ben WARLAND, 4.Alex WILKINSON, 5.Jordy BUIJS, 6.Josh BRILLANTE, 7.Michael ZULLO, 8.Paulo RETRE, 9.BOBÔ, 10.Milos NINKOVIC, 11.Adrian MIERZEJEWSKI, 12.Fabio FERREIRA, 13.Brandon O’NEILL, 14.Alex BROSQUE (c), 17.David CARNEY, 18.Matt SIMON, 20.Alex CISAK (gk), 26.Luke WILKSHIRE.
**two to be omitted**
Ins: 7.Michael ZULLO (return from injury), 26. Luke WILKSHIRE (return from suspension).
Unavailable: 23.Rhyan GRANT (knee – indefinite)