Bushfires disrupted Jets’ preparations, Merrick reveals
The raging New South Wales bushfires derailed Newcastle Jets’ preparations to play Western United on Saturday, head coach Ernie Merrick revealed.
Angus Thurgate’s 36th-minute goal earned Merrick’s men their first three-point haul of the Hyundai A-League season in a 1-0 win, but it was no ordinary week leading into the game at GMHBA Stadium.
With fires devastating wide areas of the state, Jets’ training had to be suspended on Monday and Tuesday due to the effect of the burning bush in the Hunter region.
Once the smoke had subsided, Jets players had to squeeze their training into Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and Merrick feels the higher training loads towards the back end of the week had an impact on his team.
“Generally, we’re very fit but, because of the fires in Newcastle, we couldn’t train early in the week,” said Merrick.
“We had to put the training sessions day-after-day, from Wednesday, Thursday, Friday onwards.
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“I think they were a little bit fatigued from that.
“Otherwise, we went on the back foot a little bit and we looked tired.
“But that’s when we’ve got to catch teams on the break and we did that a couple of times, because we’ve got the pace to do it.”
Merrick masterstroke catches United off guard
The Newcastle head coach spring a tactical surprise which caught out Mark Rudan’s side from the opening whistle.
Rather than starting in a wide position, Thurgate occupied an area centrally and high up the pitch, before dropping deeper when the Jets attacked.
That created space for the Jets wider players, Jason Hoffman and Nick Fitzgerland, to run diagonals into the spaces between Western United’s three-man backline.
The unorthodox approach ‘worked a treat’, according to Merrick.
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“I think most people thought that we’d put Angus [Thurgate] on the wing, on the right-hand side, and we’d put Jason [Hoffman] central as a number nine,” said Merrick.
“But what we did was, we played two wide players that would come in late, Jason and Nick [Fitzgerald].
“We dropped Angus into a sort of false nine position, similar to Dimi [Petratos] who is a number 10.
“It worked a treat in the first half. Our formation was unusual and it caught them out.
“I don’t think we could do that every week but it worked against a back-three.
“I really thought we dominated, certainly the first 45, and maybe up to 60 in the second half.
“We did fall away in the last 25-30 and that’s because of the numbers they threw forward as well.”