It’s the time of year when clubs look towards the home stretch of the season and The Football Sack critiques each club’s progress so far.

Do you agree with our assessments made in the return of our January report cards?

Semester Summary: Newcastle Jets are exceeding the expectations of just about everyone this season. Not only have they performed outstandingly to get themselves to second place on the ladder but have also managed to consolidate the position with a seven point lead over third place Melbourne City. That is despite a number of injuries to their most vital players.

The Jets were unstoppable with a fully fit squad early in the season but the absence of Ronald Vargas and Roy O’Donovan has forced Ernie Merrick into a reshuffling of position that has seen Andrew Nabbout played at striker and Jason Hoffman pushed up to right winger.

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Newcastle have lost just three games all season against Sydney FC, Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory – the three sides currently sitting around them. Reinforcements in the shape of Patricio Rodriguez and Riley McGree who is yet to feature will continue to provide cover until the return of the Jets’ injured stars and provide a selection headache for Merrick. It will undoubtedly be one he will relish with such an abundance of talent that could see the side go deep into the finals.

Areas of excellence: The Jets are one of the most entertaining sides in the league and that largely comes down to their free-flowing, attacking football. It’s hard to believe they have been able to maintain such a potent threat after such a turbulent season with so many injuries.

O’Donovan hit seven goals in his opening seven games before a groin tear ruled him out until March this year. Since moving to striker Nabbout has scored 0.55 goals per 90 minutes for a season total of seven that has him sitting equal fifth on the top scorer’s list with O’Donovan. The Jets’ number 15 also has the equal second most shots on goal with 43 sitting only behind Sydney’s powerhouse Bobo which equates to an impressive 2.8 shots per 90 minutes played.

The lethal combinations between O’Donovan and Nabbout along with Dimitri Petratos, Joe Champness, Vargas, Rodriguez and Hoffman have resulted in the Jets boasting the second most goals behind Sydney with 35.

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Areas in need of improvement: Squad depth has been a significant problem for the Jets however Merrick has been able to call on players to play out of position and fill a gap when necessary. January reinforcements as mentioned above have also helped to ease the problems brought about by a thin squad until the return of their injured players.

With attacking stocks replenished attention may need to turn to deeper in the midfield. Ben Kantarovski is currently out with a short-term back problem with Wayne Brown stepping in to fill the void. An injury to either the Englishman or midfield partner Steven Ugarkovic could prove catastrophic.

Newcastle’s average possession this season with 46.07% is currently only better than the woeful Wellington Phoenix which emphasises their reliance on the two holding midfielders to break up play and take pressure off their defenders.

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Top student: Dimitri Petratos has been not just Newcastle’s best player but arguably the best in the league as well – although Sydney’s Adrian Mierzejewski may have something to say about that. The Jets’ number 7 has started in every game of the season so far and has contributed six goals and five assists.

Petratos has been the linchpin of this Newcastle side sitting behind the front three and creating 3.1 chances per 90 minutes on the park for a total of 49 which happens to be the league’s equal highest.

There’s not much the fan favourite can’t do with close, speedy dribbling, wicked set piece delivery and the ability to find a teammate with a pass almost anywhere on the pitch. Petratos staying fit is of vital importance for Newcastle if they are to continue to compete with Sydney and the teams around them.

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Class clown: Wayne Brown. Perhaps harsh given the Englishman’s impressive recent performances but has previously been outpaced on a number of occasions as an injury replacement. He was initially deployed out wide following Vargas’ injury but was lacklustre and was soon replaced by the impressive Champness.

Even after moving to a more natural deeper and more central role Brown at times looks out of place and unable to keep pace with the game passing by around him. He has however looked more up to speed in recent games in the absence of Kantarovski. It may be down to a push from Merrick to lift his fitness or a self-initiated lift in performance in an attempt to stake a claim at a more permanent role in the side but either way, Newcastle will need him to play a significant part in the second half of their season.

Grade: A-  

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Outlook: Newcastle may be within a shout of topping the league at the mid-way point of the season if Sydney weren’t so impressive and almost impossible to best. However the reality is that Sydney are that good and it’s down to the Jets side to overcome the Sky Blues if they are to be crowned the best side in the country.

It’s now to the point where Newcastle are serious title contenders and the heroics to turn around their fortunes from previous positions doesn’t really mean much. The thought of their injured stars returning combined with their January imports should put a chill down the spine of any defence in the land.

The club will hope that such an impressive first half of the season will also see a rise in the number of fans through gates to set them up for seasons to come. Qualifying for the finals will of course help that and looks more than achievable at this stage. How deep the Jets are able to go in the finals is yet to be seen but there’s no reason whatsoever they can’t make it all the way to the final which would be a monumental achievement.

Statistics credited to ALeaguestats.com
Featured image photo credit to Sproule Sports Focus

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Living and studying in Newcastle. Pretty obsessed with football. Newcastle Jets and Chelsea FC fan