Call me crazy, call me mad, even insane. Maybe my heart is getting the better of me, but there seems to be some similarities in the flight path of this season’s Jets and last season’s Wanderers. After five rounds of the 2013/2014 A-League season, the Newcastle Jets lie seventh on six points; one win and three draws.
Last season the Western Sydney Wanderers spent the first three rounds kicking soccer balls in all directions but goal-ward. They hit pay-dirt in round four when Mark Bridge was able to slot one into the back of the net, and give the Wanderers their first ever A-League win. Prior to that match Bridge spoke to Omnisport, and was predictably probed on the 270 minute goal drought: “Defensively we’ve been very solid, structurally we’ve been very good and we’ve been very competitive in every game.” While sounding like the cliche response Bridge was right about Wests solid defence – it would prove to be the foundation of their critically acclaimed season. After five rounds last year the Wanderers had conceded just three goals, and found themselves on seven competition points.
This season the Jets struggled through three matches and the ‘goal drought’ tag was being bandied about. Then came the round four local derby with Central Coast Mariners. Winless, but with two draws behind them, and two clean sheets, the Jets went into the game underdogs with a quite confidence. Amazingly, Newcastle found themselves the owners of a 2-nil lead with more than 60 minutes played. Graham Arnold’s Mariners would storm back as the Jets got stage fright. A penalty in the 63rd minute and a ‘tap in’ from a rebound in the 79th minute meant the Jets could only manage a draw. Prior to that match Jets assistant coach Craig Deans said, “. . . the small margins are not going in our favour, but we are still going to stay positive. At the same time, to have what looks to be quite a solid defencive structure at the moment is something that’s pleasing and something we can build on.” And so the Jets would pick up their first win in round five against Adelaide United at Adelaide.
Newcastle conceded 45 goals in their 27 matches last season. They look on the road to a much better season defensively, largely due to the recruitment of Dutch centre-back Kew Jaliens. Just as Tony Popovic created the monster that is now Western Sydney Wanderers by building a rock solid defence, the Jets maligned manager Gary Van Egmond appears to have applied the same template this year. Further upside for the Jets comes in the form of Emile Heskey’s return from injury – sure to provide more space for former Socceroo Nathan Burns. All signs point to a very productive season for the Jets.