As the festive season rolls around, pre-Christmas, actual Christmas and post-Christmas drinks become something of the norm. It can indeed be a tough season on the kidneys.

Between corporate, family and social gatherings, alcohol and nibbly consumption elevates considerably at this time of year. As such, many a hangover claws itself out of bed the morning after the festivities.

The Newcastle Jets have their own hazy fog to combat after a slow and uninspiring start to the season. However, as opposed to being solely self-inflicted, this particular headache also sees external forces at play. 

With just the one win from six, Ernie Merrick’s men sit just three points ahead of the cellar-dwelling Mariners and two clear wins below fifth placed Melbourne City.

It is, of course, still such a young season and after the Victory’s surge home in 2017-18, one would be foolish to write off the men from the Hunter at this stage. 

Also foolish would be the failure to recognise and cite the realities lurking behind their form.

There are tangible factors at play. The suspended Roy O’Donovan is undoubtedly the most significant, after his rather over-zealous play during last year’s decider against the Victory. Whilst providing a stage for the heroic Lawrence Thomas to play that role with aplomb, his actions and subsequent ten week suspension have left a chasm that the Jets are yet to bridge.

Andrew Nabbout had struck up a seemingly telepathic relationship with O’Donovan prior to his departure and with both now absent, the effect on the attacking potency of the Jets has been clear.

Jason Hoffman has been used forward by Merrick, in an attempt to stop-gap the issue, and the 29 year-old has given everything in his attempt to play the role effectively. However, eight goals in 80 matches reflects the temporariness of the solution at which Merrick has arrived and despite finding the net against the Wanderers, Hoffman has failed to threaten consistently.

21 year-old Joseph Champness looks a potential star in Newcastle, yet after such a promising start to his time in red and blue, he also finds himself on the pine. The foot injury sustained in the pre-season has yet to heal and the dreaded 'TBC' alongside his name, suggests that there may still be a number of frustrating weeks of wait before he is able to return. 

O’Donovan and Champness would have shouldered much of the load up front had they been on the pitch; without them, the club sought another short term solution. The signing of 25 year-old Englishman Kaine Sheppard seemed a promising step and a potential masterstroke after his impressive form with Avondale FC in the NPL competition.  

Sadly, after much anticipation around the Englishman’s potential, he too has succumbed to injury after making his way on to the bench early in the season.

Much hope was placed on a fresh and fit Ronald Vargas following the horrific injury that kept him out for most of last season. With Dimi Petratos improving all the time and now armed with the confidence of Socceroo selection, the quality he and Vargas possess through the centre of the pitch appeared to have the Jets on course for another bold run at the title.

Unfortunately, Newcastle’s combinations have looked underdeveloped, nervous and at times flat out clunky and the midfield has struggled to find passing lanes and avenues to the temporary men up front.

It certainly hasn’t been for want of trying. However, even the lone victory that the Jets do have was somewhat fortunate; achieved on a night where the Wanderers were horrifically wasteful in front of goal at Spotless Stadium. 

That 2-0 triumph removed some of the heat from a manager and playing group, both hoping that things will only get better when the attacking options return. However, the men who have taken to the pitch over the first six rounds could still have done more.

Defensively things have been solid with just eight goals conceded, yet five successful shots on goal is the second lowest return across the ten clubs. Injuries aside, Newcastle have more than enough quality to have created and converted more often.

Former Victory man Mitch Austin has failed to stamp authority on a starting position, despite possessing some of the weapons that the injuries have removed from the squad. New foreigner Jair Eduardo is yet to find his feet in Australia and Steven Ugarkovic hasn’t quite emulated the individual form he produced last season.

All in all, it is something of a headache for Ernie Merrick. Fully aware that his returning Irishman will reshape the entire structure of his team’s play, he must also be a little frustrated and concerned that the remainder of his squad hasn’t coped a little better with the temporary adversity.

The next few months will see the full picture of the Jets 2018-19 season emerge. Personally, I think they will be playing finals football and making something of a late season charge.    

Categories: Opinion | A-League

newcastle jets, a-league

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