Sydney FC coach Steve Corica hopes an extra day's rest after their next Asian Champions League (ACL) game will help them to recover for the A-League semifinals after a tired performance in a 2-0 loss in Newcastle.
Sydney were already assured of second place going into on Saturday evening's final-round clash at McDonald Jones Stadium, and Newcastle's finals hopes were long gone after a frustrating campaign in front of goal.
The Sky Blues created the better chances but the Jets struck first through Ben Kantarovski in the 41st minute after goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne misjudged a corner from Dimi Petratos. Petratos put Newcastle further ahead in the 52nd minute with a strike after being left unmarked at the back post off Lachlan Jackson's cross. Jets keeper Glen Moss was a standout, making several quality saves.
Sydney were backing up from Tuesday's 2-2 ACL away draw with Shanghai East Asia. And, they travel to Ulsan in South Korea on Tuesday week to play again before their A-League finals campaign. Corica believed the busy schedule played its part in the Newcastle loss.
"A few of the boys looked a bit tired," Corica said. "Trying to keep them focused for the last game when there's not a lot riding on it is difficult. Everyone's worried about getting injuries, I suppose, going into the semifinals.
"I thought we were good, though, in patches. We had 18 shots to their eight or nine, so we showed we wanted to score. We created chances - we just didn't take them tonight."
Corica hopes an extra day to recover after the Ulsan game, which they need to win to progress potentially to the next stage, will help them improve in the finals at home. Rhyan Grant was a late casualty with what Corica believed was a low-grade hamstring strain. He said Grant was unlikely to travel to Ulsan but should be fit for the finals.
Jets coach Ernie Merrick lamented his team's poor conversion of goal-scoring chances through the season but took heart from the performances of youngsters Angus Thurgate, Johnny Koutroumbis and Joey Champness, and his experienced defence against Sydney.
"I think with the number of points, 35, that we had, we would have made it into the finals any other time, but we didn't deserve to be in the finals," said Merrick, who steered the club last season to second spot and a grand final. "We didn't play consistent football and perform like we did tonight but, on a positive note, some of the youngsters really stood up tonight."