Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick has questioned his team's mental strength after crashing to their third consecutive defeat with a 2-0 loss to Perth Glory at McDonald-Jones Stadium on Friday night.
The home side, who have already sewn up second spot on the A-League ladder, put in an abject performance in the first half, going behind to Diego Castro's penalty inside the opening 10 minutes before former Jets striker Adam Taggart made it two after a brilliant Glory move.
Despite a slightly improved performance in the second stanza after the introductions of Pato Rodriguez and Joey Champness, Merrick still ripped shreds off his team, questioning the on-field leadership and expressing his concern at their form so close to finals.
It's mental, it's not physical. There is a mental issue here. We don't have enough on field leaders doing their job. There wasn't enough people that wanted to be in the box to score goals," Merrick told Fox Sports after the match.
"If we play that type of football we are not going to do very well in the semi final. Hopefully it's a wake up call. But it was a very poor performance all round."
However the Jets coach made it clear he did not agree with referee Chris Beath's decision to award a penalty against on-loan midfielder Riley McGree in the ninth minute.
It appeared McGree did make slight contact with an airborne Joseph Mills, but the Glory defender did force himself to the turf after the clip.
"Once again we gave away a penalty - which I didn't think it was penalty," Merrick said.
The Jets have been cruelled by the loss of captain Nigel Boogard to injury and Andrew Nabbout's transfer to Japan, and the situation continues to deteriorate with two further players suffering fitness concerns.
Merrick ruled out midfielder Wayne Brown, who only lasted nine minutes, for the rest of the regular season but explained the withdrawal of star playmaker Ronald Vargas was just a precaution because of minor injury.
"I'd say that's Wayne done for the next two or three games because he just can't seem to overcome a calf injury. He thinks he has overcome it and he is fine and his strength test is good - but then he pulls it again," he said.
"Ronnie [Vargas] has got a groin issue and I don't think it's too bad so we talk him off just to be safe because we want him in the semi-final."
The Jets face an F3 derby away against Central Coast Mariners in the last round of the A-League season before enjoying the first week off in finals as a reward for finishing second.