Newcastle have ended Macarthur FC's hopes of snaring an A-League Men finals berth by dispatching the Bulls 3-0 at Campbelltown Stadium.
Needing at least a point to keep alive their quest for back-to-back finals appearances, the Bulls instead had their aspirations dashed by goals from Savvas Siatravanis, Valentino Yuel and Beka Mikeltadze.
A month into the ALM season the Bulls were undefeated and top of the table and flying but now they are four points out of the six with just a single game remaining.
Due to COVID-19, Milicic's side didn't play a single game between Boxing Day and February, a gap he pinpoints as the catalyst for their downward spiral.
"I know my group, I know where we're at. I'm with them daily and I saw the resilience that they had," he said.
"It's one thing having a break but it's another to have a break with COVID. Our players couldn't get back to those fitness levels.
"When you've got a congested fixture list and on top of that you have too many quality players missing for too long, it catches up with you."
The Bulls coach announced mid-week that he would depart Macarthur and move to Europe at the end of their campaign.
While he was hoping it would come after finals, an "exhausted' Milicic was looking forward to a long sabbatical away from the pressures of coaching.
"I want to go to Croatia. My background is from a lovely island called Hvar," Milicic said.
"I don't want to look at a laptop, I don't want to watch games, I don't want to take phone calls from players, coaches, agents.
"I want to watch teams that I enjoy watching as a fan. I want to watch good quality games at a nice time slot if I do watch football."
The Jets will also miss the finals but, unlike the Bulls, they know exactly who will be leading them into the future after coach Arthur Papas signed a contract extension during the week.
The coach made a raft of changes to the Jets XI for the meeting with the Bulls -- not through experimentation or planning for the future but, instead, due to a wave of non-COVID illness.
"It was a difficult day. We had a host of players that haven't been well put themselves up for that game," Papas said.
"I'm really proud of their work ethic, attitude, and focus."
Australian Associated Press
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