Key pillars in their side's impressive post-resumption form, Newcastle Jets' boss Carl Robinson has praised the play of midfield pairing Angus Thurgate and Steven Ugarkovic.
As was expected from two of the competition’s best midfields, Sunday evening’s contest between the Jets and Western produced an engrossing back and forth battle; both sides willing to embrace positivity and risk as they attempted to play through a fierce opposition press.
Playing a key role for the Jets as they secured a 1-0 win was the pairing of Ugarkovic and Thurgate at the base of their side's midfield - positions they have maintained in all three of their games since the competition resumed from its COVID-19 enforced hiatus,
While the talents of Ugarkovic have increasingly begun to be recognised amongst observers of the competition, the play of 20-year-old Port Macquarie native has been a pleasing addition to the league’s run home.
Speaking to media following his side’s win, Robinson praised the play of the former Young Socceroo, explaining that he had taken a particular interest in his development and that his standard of play was earning him minutes over the likes of Welsh star Joe Ledley and veteran Ben Kantarovski.
“I think Gus [Thurgate] has been excellent, not just since the break but since I’ve come in,” Robinson said.
“Me being a midfielder myself [Robinson was capped 52 times for Wales and played over 400 club games across England and the MLS], I’m pretty forceful on midfield players, I’m pretty picky.
"If I see him make a bad pass or a bad decision my job – because I used to see it myself and get taught – is to get on him. So, I give him a bit of a hard time and I expect a certain level of play.
“Steven [Ugarkovic] and Gus, because they’ve [played in] those two positions at such a high level in games, it’s been difficult for me to leave them out.
“I put challenges on them. In training, I will talk to them about completing passes and touches. I want my two midfield players to get 60, 80, 100 touches of the ball. I think against Central Coast, Steven had about 100 and Gus had about 80 [touches].
“That’s a minimum requirement because that means I dominate possession and if you have more of the ball, you’re more likely to create chances if you get the final third movements right.
“And then you have got to win duels, tackles and headers and read the game – but you are the fulcrum of the team.
“They deserve to play based upon the football, I’ve got Joe [Ledley] who is a different type of player but is excellent as well. Kanta [Kantarovski] is back from injury.
“I’ve got young Jack Simmons who I want to have a look at as well. I’ve got numerous ways I can go but these two boys deserve to play at the moment based on their form.”
Robinson has won five, drawn three and lost just a single game since he arrived at the helm of the Jets.
Unfortunately for fans from the Hunter, their barnstorming run to the finals appears to just be too little, too late, with even Robinson acknowledging following the Western fixture that they likely had run out of time to make a playoff impact.
Nonetheless, their performances following the 43-year-old’s arrival have given fans of the club – whose ownership situation continues to cast a cloud – a reason to be hopeful for 2020/21.
Speaking to Fox Sports just after halftime of the Western fixture, Robinson talked about encouraging his side’s to take risks in their pursuit of wins, and following the game, he explained how he counterbalanced that with the performance metrics he sets his side.
“I think there was an example in the 37th or 38th minute,” he began. “Where Angus played a square ball on the edge of our box and Diamanti, being a very smart player, read the pass and gets a chance on goal.
“I spoke to Gus in the locker room at half time, I said when I talk about completing passes and switching play, that’s just a naive pass because good player read square passes.
“It’s the most dangerous pass in football and the reason we set up with a back three and two midfield players is to create triangles because the game is about triangles and overloads all over. But by playing a square pass and taking three of your own players out of the game it allows a transition moment which Diamanti read.
“Sometimes games dictate that you can be as aggressive as you want without the ball and win seven tackles on the stat sheet, or you can have a really good game with possession and have no tackles because you had more of the ball.
“You’ve got to be open-minded as a coach and realise that they’re not black and white, because football’s not like that, but learning moments and teaching moments are certainly what I use [performance targets] for.
“Gus realised, and he didn’t pass square in the second half.”