Injuries tempering Culina's joy at Jets
Branko Culina should be celebrating Newcastle's return to the A-League top six but the coach's joy has been tempered by the club's ever-growing injury toll.
Nine players are listed in the Jets' casualty ward with regular starters Michael Bridges, Jeremy Brockie, Ben Kantarovski and Adam D'Apuzzo all facing extended stints on the sidelines in the run-in to the finals.
Former captain Ljubo Milicevic's playing future at the Jets also remains clouded.
The ex-Socceroo has been granted extra time to recover from an ankle injury as he seeks a move to Europe during the January transfer window.
He told AAP on Tuesday he didn't expect to play for the Jets again with an overseas deal close to being finalised.
"I just think it'll be difficult because there's only realistically three weeks left to go and if I'm to leave in the transfer window then I'd said no," Milicevic said when asked if he thought he'd play again for the club.
To add to their woes, the Jets' two goalkeepers Ben Kennedy (concussion) and Matt Nash (groin) could only get through 45 minutes each in Tuesday night's 1-0 win over North Queensland, with Kennedy undergoing a CAT scan during the week after experiencing ongoing headaches.
"We thought he'd be ok, but he wasn't," Culina said of the decision to start the 23-year-old shot-stopper.
"He was never one hundred per cent but we thought `Nashy's still not one hundred per cent either so we'll go with BK (Kennedy)'.
"To his credit he tried very hard but he couldn't see the ball, he was getting dizzy, so we made the change at halftime.
"We'll just have to monitor BK and probably make a call on him maybe Friday."
The Jets are also sweating on the fitness of Iraqi winger Ali Abbas who is struggling to make his return from a groin injury in time for this Sunday's F3 derby clash with the Central Coast Mariners.
Despite having a depleted squad at his disposal, Culina still feels his side has what it takes to pick up a third consecutive win.
"I still believe in this team," he said.
"I think you like to go into those type of games with wins behind you.
"We didn't talk about it, but we knew that if we won it would put us back in that top six and it's up to us now to lose that spot.
"We've still got a game in hand on most other teams so we're in a good position, but we know it's going to be tough for the last seven games particularly with the thin squad that we have."