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O'Donovan touch and go for Victory game

Newcastle coach Ernie Merrick is hopeful of unleashing injured striker Roy O'Donovan on Melbourne Victory.

O'Donovan sat out Saturday night's first loss of the A-League season to Sydney FC with what Merrick described as a "minor groin niggle".

"I think if it was finals football he'd play, but that tightness and sensitivity is usually a warning that the muscle's not feeling the best," Merrick said.

"So if you make a sudden twist or change of direction you get a tear.

"Rather than risk a tear we thought we would rest him, because if you get a tear at this stage of the season you're out for six or seven weeks."

O'Donovan has been in prolific form since moving to Newcastle, with seven goals from six A-League appearances this season.

The Irishman is under a cloud for Thursday's home clash with winless Victory yet remains a chance to help the Jets rebound.

"We'll have to have a look at that, but the physiotherapist and doctor seem to think he will be (OK to play)," Merrick said.

O'Donovan wasn't the only key man missing on Saturday - Wayne Brown was absent with a calf strain, while youngster Mario Shabow was on leave following the death of his father.

In their place Merrick threw in youngsters like Joe Champness, who came close to nicking a late equaliser.

Despite praising their contributions, the coach warned his side's high-flying season will not endure any further slow starts.

"Always disappointed when they don't play for the full 90 minutes ... it's going to be a major problem if you give them a start of a goal every week, and we seem to be doing that this year," he said.

"I'd rather lose to a top team away from home than lose at home to one of the teams in the bottom part of the table, so it's almost like if you're going to lose this is the time.

"Hopefully you get a kick up the backside and kick on from here. We got away with a poor start against Adelaide but we can't keep doing it."