Griffiths itching to atone for send-off
JETS coach Clayton Zane says Joel Griffiths is mentally and physically primed to make amends for his two-game suspension in tomorrow’s crucial showdown with Sydney FC at Hunter Stadium.
But Zane is nonetheless expected to resist the urge to rush the talismanic striker into his starting side, instead showing faith in the Emile Heskey-Adam Taggart pairing up front.
Griffiths, the former crowd favourite and hero of Newcastle’s 2007-08 premiership campaign, played his first game for the club in five years in the 2-2 draw with Western Sydney on February 1.
But the 34-year-old’s homecoming was soured when he verbally abused referee Ben Williams after the full-time whistle, a brain snap that resulted in a red card and a two-match ban.
Zane said Griffiths had ‘‘taken it very hard’’ and was desperate to repay his teammates and Newcastle’s fans during the run into the finals.
‘‘A lot of people out there may think that Joel maybe doesn’t care because of his exit from the club before and the circumstances,’’ Zane said yesterday.
‘‘He didn’t leave on the best terms last time.
‘‘But he’s been excellent in terms of his attitude.
‘‘His head went down for a week there, but he’s done well to pull through the other side.
‘‘He’s desperate to make sure that the discipline thing is sorted out and we don’t see a repeat of that.
‘‘But, more importantly, he wants to play good football and he wants to do it in Newcastle for the back end of his career. So I hope to see the best of him.’’
Griffiths, who arrived at Newcastle short of match fitness after leaving Chinese club Qingdao Jonoon in December, has trained intensively over the past fortnight.
‘‘He was a little bit underdone when he sat on the bench for his first game,’’ Zane said. ‘‘But he’s a player who, if he was needed to start, he’s definitely available to do so … he’s looked excellent in training from week one and he’s only got better.
‘‘I’m sure everyone is waiting in anticipation to see the best of Joel Griffiths at the back end of the season.’’
But Zane said Griffiths and Newcastle’s other new signing, former Socceroo David Carney, were likely to come off the bench tomorrow.
‘‘I’ve tried to maintain a pretty solid squad where we don’t make too many changes unless they’re forced. But at the same time, I need to make sure I explore other options as well, to see what is the best fit for Sydney,’’ he said.
The prospect of Newcastle fielding a forward line of Griffiths, Taggart and Heskey might sound good in theory, but Zane was still weighing it up.
‘‘I’m going to have to be a bit of a magician to juggle that one and make sure that we still have a good defensive structure,’’ he said.
‘‘But as you saw on the weekend, Emile was excellent with his hold-up play, Taggart always looked a threat playing on people’s shoulders, and on the counter-attack I thought it was some our best moments this season in terms of going forward. So I welcome having Joel available for selection.
‘‘If there’s a way that we can fit them into the structure, then we’ll definitely look to do that.’’
After last week’s 1-0 win in Brisbane, which lifted Newcastle to within two points of sixth-placed Sydney, Zane said his team had their finals fate ‘‘well and truly in our hands’’.
He was confident the Jets could capitalise on ‘‘a favourable draw’’ in their final eight games, five of which are on home turf.
‘‘We can’t afford to come up with excuses any more,’’ he said. ‘‘We know that it has to be a run of two or three games.
‘‘If for whatever reason we find ourselves that we win one and we lose one, we still need to find that period in the season where we go on a run of two or three games, definitely.’’
TAKING IT HARD: Joel Griffiths will likely be on the bench against Sydney tomorrow. Picture: Jonathan Carroll