The Sky Blues took a 1-0 lead into the break courtesy of Milos Ninkovic before Bobo pounced on the loose ball in the second half to double the home side's lead.

Dimi Petratos dragged one back against his former club in a tough second half battle on a rain-soaked pitch at Allianz Stadium.

The 2-1 result saw Newcastle cough up the league lead to Sydney but Merrick said Duncan was not to blame.

“I thought Jack had an outstanding game,” he said post-match. 

“He made a mistake but he really saved some tremendous shots. I think he improved tonight enormously.”

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The 24-year-old pulled off a string of fine saves and fended off a raft of corners and Merrick said the problem lay elsewhere.

“We threw away the game in the first half," he said.

"We tried to play what looked like safe football. The boys showed what they can do in the second half but there was nothing to come of it other than a goal.

“If we had got the second one with young Joey Champness maybe something would have come of it but I thought Sydney put on a really good performance, knocked the ball around well and they’re going to be very difficult to beat at home.”

Newcastle were without strike ace Roy O’Donavan (groin niggle), Wayne Brown (calf strain) and Ronnie Vargas (long-term injury). Daniel Georgievski was subbed at half time with cramp.

Even so Merrick was puzzled by the Jets muted start.

“I haven’t quite worked it out, but away from home for the last two weeks now we’ve played fairly defensive football, a lot of square and back passes,” he said.

“But having said that, you know, some of the young lads we’ve been putting out have been doing a pretty good job and I don’t think there was any disgrace in the game.

“I was pretty impressed with the way they turned things around in the second half but we really did throw it away in the first half…It’s going to be major problem if we give them a start of a goal every week and we seem to be doing that this year.”

He added: “We got away with a poor start against Adelaide but we can’t keep doing it.”