‘I’ll play the U16s’: Merrick to rotate busy Jets
A second-string Newcastle side will face Melbourne City on Friday night as coach Ernie Merrick keeps one eye firmly on a tough trip midweek to Japan.
Having seen off Indonesian outfit Persija Jakarta 3-1 in extra-time on Tuesday night, the Jets will travel for a sudden-death showdown against last year's Asian Champions League winners Kashima Antlers for a spot in the continent's competition's group stage.
First, though, they host Melbourne City at McDonald Jones Stadium in a bid to close an eight-point gap on the A-League's top six.
"We've got two more games in one week, so really Friday night against Melbourne City is going to be an under-16 team I reckon," Merrick said.
"Not many of these boys could play and then go to Japan. The bus leaves on Saturday morning after the Friday game around 5am, so it's going to be pretty tough going over to play in Kashima against the Antlers if the boys have to play on Friday night. It's going to be a completely different team.
"We have to play a whole new team on Friday night as much as we can."
Though Merrick was relieved none of his squad had suffered injuries against Persija he cited general soreness and fatigue as the main concerns and said recovery would largely supplant training this week.
Jason Hoffman (ankle) still won't be available against Warren Joyce's fifth-placed City, but Nick Cowburn, Lachlan Jackson and Angus Thurgate could all be in the mix for a start following cameos off the bench.
Captain Nigel Boogaard put the responsibility back on the players to ensure they were up for whatever came their way in a crucial period.
"We're fortunate enough we've got a strong squad this year and the boys have come off the bench and done very well, so it's great to see that they're knocking on the door for a starting position," Boogaard said.
"With the heavy schedule, boys may need a little bit of extra time to recover. But if you can't get yourself up for these games and get yourself over whatever niggles or tiredness going on in your body you've probably got to have a look at yourself, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in these competitions."