ON THE BALL: Industrious Jets midfielder Mateo Poljak is looking forward to the challenge of returning to Pirtek Stadium, albeit in enemy colours. Picture: Jonathan CarrollMATEO Poljak gave his all for the Red and Black Block during three seasons at Western Sydney Wanderers.
The respect flowed both ways.
Now a Newcastle Jet, Poljak will make his first trip in enemy colours to a packed Pirtek StadiumonThursday.
“I have a lot of great memories from there,” said the midfielder, who helped Wanderers to a grand final and Asian Champions League title.
“I’m obviously playing in a different shirt now which changes things quite a lot.I know it will be a great crowd.
“They are great for this country with regards to following football and providing that atmosphere.”
Fueled by the Red and Black Block supporters group, “Wandererland”has become a cauldron and can beintimidating, even for the most seasoned veteran.
Poljak though has learned to block the fans out.
“I see the crowd and the energythe first time I walk out, and then at the end of the game,” he said.
“I don’t hear them and I don’t see them when I am playing.I concentrate on my performance and the team’s performance.”
Poljak was one of 15 players released as Tony Popovicoverhauled the roster and adopted a new playingstyle.
After a slow start, they are unbeaten in eight games and sit top of the table.
“There are only a couple of players still there fromwhen I was there,” Poljak said.
“A lot of new faces. It is a bit of a different style, but it didn’t take them long to gel.Everyone was questioning them after a bit of a slow start, but everybody sees now that it works.
“They are playing very good, and at this moment they are the best team in the competition.
“Regardless of their position on the ladder we can go and have a big fight against them.We know we are good enough to go against anyone.”
CentrebackDaniel Mullen is likely to return alongside Nigel Boogaardin a reshuffled Jets back four.
“It is important for us to get that core group together,” he said.
“It is beneficial for young players as well.They feel more confident having senior players around them.
“We have been working a lot on possession, controlling the game a bit more.”
The Jets led Wanderers 1-0 with 15 minutes remaining at Hunter Stadium in round five only to concede two late goals.
“They are a team that never gives up,” Poljak said.
“Wehaveto concentrate regardless of the score and play until the last whistle.”
The come-from-behind triumphover the Jets was the second in a seven-game Wanderers winningstreak which ended with a 2-all draw with Perth last round.
“We don’t speak about the ladder, we just speak about the next challenge and maintaining our high standards,”Popovic said.