Cleared for takeoff? Merrick's hint on returning Boogaard
Newcastle Jets boss Ernie Merrick admits he’s settled on a starting eleven and confirmed that returning defender Nigel Boogaard is in line to start in Friday night’s Semi-Final against Melbourne City.
Fresh from the week off, Newcastle will host their first home final in 10 years when they welcome City to McDonald Jones Stadium for a place in the Hyundai A-League Grand Final.
And Boogaard, who suffered a fractured tibia and torn calf in early March, is poised to make a miraculous return for the club’s biggest game of the season.
“I think Nigel would be 100% if I needed him to start,” Merrick told reporters on Thursday.
“I won’t release the starting XI but I feel confident that Nigel and Ronny Vargas – if we needed them for a whole game they would do it. If we needed them for a part of the game, they would do it.
“I haven’t placed any restrictions on who could play what and how long for. It’s a Semi-Final, it’s in front of hopefully a very big Novocastrian crowd so whoever I put on there will be on for the whole game.
“I’m not even worried about saying ‘I can only give him half an hour or him 45 minutes’. This is a finals match and a very important one.”
While it was initially feared Boogaard would miss the remainder of the season, the 31-year-old has pushed himself in a desperate bid to play in the finals.
And although showing signs of discomfort in training, Merrick insists Boogard’s inclusion is a calculated risk worth taking.
“I think that’s my job to gamble but make sure that I’ve got the odds in my favour,” Merrick said.
“And knowing how the boys [have trained], knowing all their fitness details, knowing if there’s any injury concerns and knowing how they’ve played all year when they have played, is what I base my decision on.
“Really it’s [an] odds in my favour gamble. But I don’t think it’s gambling at all.”
Melbourne City have enjoyed the better of the head-to-head clashes this season with Warren Joyce’s side winning both regular season matches in Newcastle, with the other fixture ending in a 2-2 draw.
Merrick said he had learned some lessons from the past match-ups with City but insists his side’s ability to break-up attacks and win the ball will prove crucial.
“I haven’t really been overly concerned about Melbourne City. We looked at some things we could do better against Melbourne City from the previous three games we’ve played,” Merrick said.
“We’ve looked at a lot of things we did really well. And to me, we’ve got a very good attacking team and it’s about making sure we can launch lots of attacks based on often winning the ball in defence.
“So making sure our defensive structure is right and the more we win the ball, the more opportunity we’ve got to play our attacking brand [of football].
“And that’s what we’ve been driving into the boys all week.”