THREAT: Melbourne City’s Bruno Fornaroli takes a shot at goal during the win over Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman
It’s late Monday morning as I start to pen this columnand I’ve just watched the replay of the Jets versus Melbourne City game from Sunday evening.
It doesn’t look any better on the boxand there are no penalty rates applicable for the public holidayto brighten the outlook.
As this column noted a few weeks ago, the Jets were going to enter a period, almost like a twilight zone, in the run into a home qualifying finalwhere results were irrelevantbut the loss of momentum and competitivenesscould prove fatal.
Nothing I saw in two viewings of the weekend’s gamegave me reason for reassurance. City did it easily, way too easily, for a visiting teamat McDonald Jones Stadium this season.
By my reckoning, that’s three poor performances in a row for the Jets. Yes, I realise it doesn’t matter points-wiseand City had more at stake, but the Jets are not a side that can just flick a switch when it suits them.
Coach Ernie Merrick needs a response from his troops on Friday nightwhen Perth Glory, clinging to the slimmest of semi-final hopes,enter their last chance saloon.
Whatever line-up the Jets put out, they must get a result in this game. They cannot afford another below-par offeringwith only the likely bunfight against the Mariners next week andthe following weekend off to come beforea do-or-die semi-final against an opponentbuoyed by a win.
A few weeks ago I would have been very confident of the Jets, with a massively parochial home crowd, having too much energy, passion, pace and powerfor their semi-final opponents. Today, I’m far from convinced.
More importantly, do the players still believe? Deep down they will know their standards have dropped. Deep down they know the loss of Andrew Nabbout and Nigel Boogaard has affected them. Can they overcome that?
There is a chance the skipper may defy the medical diagnosis and be backfor the finals. It would be a bonus, a lift for the group, but pinning your hopes on that recoveryand a player who hasn’t kicked a ball in six to eight weeksto be a saviouris highly optimistic.
The sage footballer/coach Eric Burns, of Belmont, must be sitting back at home saying, “I warned you selling Nabbout could be bad business”. Though I explained, to be fair to management, once an approaching club offered the stipulated amount in his contract for the transfer fee, his release was automatically triggered.
That said, his departure has left a gaping hole. Certainly the Jets had scored in every game until Sunday, but in the last three matches it’s been a double ricochet and a goalkeeping blunder that led to Jason Hoffman scoring in New Zealand,and Ben Kantarovski with two tap-insfrom scrambles at set pieces in Adelaide with the game gone. There’s beenvery little threat from other sources.
Merrick said after the game on Sundaythat the players need to learn valuable lessons from the matchand, if I’m on the money, some very specific ones.I reckon Melbourne City are about $1.60 to be returning here for that much-awaited qualifying final, likely to be played on April 27.
That’s based on the assumption that they should get six points, minimum four, from matches at home to the Mariners and away to Wellington. Melbourne Victory, with two points to make up and an inferior for and against,will beat Wellington at home this weekend but travel to Sydney FC in round 27. That’s surely a far tougher assignment than City face.
City would then have to deal with the sixth-placed finisher, likely to be Brisbane or the Wanderers, at AAMI Park to advance and meet the Jets.All things being equal, that should happen.City are in a good place right now. Whether through injury, good fortune, sound January recruitment, luck or excellentcoaching, Warren Joyce has come up with a very well balanced starting 11, depth and variety on the benchand a sense of timing with their improved form.
Daniel Arzani is on fire, Bruno Fornaroli is as good as any striker in the league when fit, Dario Vidosic has added goals, a set-piece threatand tactical flexibility.I like the balance and quality of Luke Brattan, Stefan Mauk and Oliver Bozanic in midfieldand it will be interesting to see if Joyce can resist the defensive insurance he values in Osama Malik when he regains fitness.Does he need itwhen he has settled on the best central defensive combination at the club, and possibly in the league, of Bart Schenkenveld and Michael Jakobsen?
If the Jets meet City again, they have much to think about. Getting cover on who marks the tricky Arzani, or cutting off supply. Finding a better match-up for Vidosic, who is very good in the air at set pieces.
Finding a way to apply pressure to Brattan, who dominates games from the base of midfield, is paramount, as is the tracking of Mauk’s late runs. Fornaroli is a constant danger.
That may seem like a whole lot of issues to overcome, but it’s not so long ago that the Jets blew City away in a first-half blitz at McDonald Jones Stadiumbefore losing most unluckily.
Rediscovering the energy and edge that the Jets had thengoes a long way towards addressing some of the problems presented.
The Jets need to find the intensity they played with a month or six weeks ago. Easier said than doneI grant you, and the loss of two key players is not taken lightly.
If games become about pretty passing patterns and individual quality, rather than collective pressure, pace in transitionand making things awkward for opponents, the Jets lose the advantage to the teams with higher profile individuals.
Does Ernie need to tinker with his team’s shapeto rediscover that combativeness and competitive edge?
We will probably find out on Fridaynight against a desperate Perth. They are obviously not the best team in the competition, but have a top record in Newcastleand a number of individuals good enough to flourish if the Jets are a bit light on for enthusiasm and intensity.
I’m sure the fans would like a strong performance to ease some nagging doubtsand lift confidence for what lies ahead.