2014/15 Newcastle Jets season preview

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The Newcastle Jets will be desperate to reach the finals series this season after missing out for the last four years, though a few questions remain unanswered. Will they be able to fill the void left by Adam Taggart’s departure? Can head coach Phil Stubbins keep his troops focused during a season which may well be plagued by off-field drama surrounding ownership?

Following the conclusion of last season, the Jets management ordered maintenance to remove the doors on Hunter Stadium. Since then, players have flooded in and out of the ground, both if you’re Zenon Caravella. Signing the likes of Marcos Flores and Jonny Steele along with former Socceroos Adrian Madaschi and Billy Celeski could prove to be what is needed to bring finals football back to Newcastle.

Last season
A-League: 7th
Finals: DNQ

They’ll win the league because…
Smart off-season signings have shown real intent from the Jets as they look to reshape their team following the departures of Taggart, Josh Brillante and captain Ruben Zadkovich. The captures of Flores, Celeski and Steele along with the returning Caravella gives the midfield a classy look and will provide the attacking flair that was missing for much of last season. The addition of former Adelaide United striker Jeronimo Neumann and Ecuadorian international Edson Montano should relieve the goalscoring pressure placed on Joel Griffiths after Taggart’s transfer to English club Fulham.

Goalkeeper Mark Birighitti will start the season full of confidence following his trip to Brazil with the Socceroos and will be all the better for it. Former Dutch international Kew Jaliens has been given the armband and his pairing with Madaschi will prove hard to breakdown. David Carney and Scott Neville will likely be the preferred fullbacks, providing solid defence and further attacking threats.

With so many additions to the squad, it may take some time for the players to gel, but if Stubbins can get the team settled early in the season, they could well be there come May.

They’ll be cellar dwellers because…
Nathan Tinkler, can I say that? Having already offloaded the Newcastle Knights to the NRL, Tinkler has turned his attention to selling the Jets. There have been rumours circulating that English Premier League clubs have been looking into the Novocastrian squad, including namesake Newcastle United. But a sale looks to be a long way off and a lack of focus in the office usually results in poor on-field performance. But let’s cross our fingers and hope that doesn’t happen.

Midfield depth could also prove the undoing for the Jets. Not necessarily in terms of talent, but the squad size is more worrying. The Jets will start the season without Celeski and Ben Kantarovski due to injury and it may take a few weeks for Flores to return to full fitness. Talk is that Jacob Pepper may be called on to fill the gap in the middle. While the surprise return of Caravella is helpful, a few injuries and the Jets would be in real trouble. 

Talk around the water cooler… look smart in front of your colleagues with this valuable piece of information.
Northern Irishman Jonny Steele has spent much of his career playing in America where he has developed an Australian connection. The Jets signed Steele from the New York Redbulls where he played alongside Australian World Cup hero Tim Cahill. He will also see a familiar face at the Jets this season in former Redbulls teammate David Carney. Steele reportedly spoke with both Cahill and Carney before signing on with the Jets. If he is charged with running the left flank, look for him to combine with the left back to devastating effect.

The off-season brought…
Clayton Zane was thanked for his time as interim coach and the club appointed former Reds assistant Phil Stubbins as head coach. Stubbins may not have the profile of Graham Arnold, who was rumoured to get the job, but the Jets were pleased to get their man. He wasted no time making personnel changes with Michael Bridges (retired), Connor Chapman, James Brown and Joey Gibbs all allowed to leave with Zadkovich, Brillante and Taggart. Flores, Steele, Celeski, Madaschi, Jeronimo and Montano all came in, along with Sam Gallagher and Western Sydney Wanderers young gun Joshua Barresi, who unfortunately suffered an ACL injury in preseason that will rule him out all year.

Ground improvements are currently underway at Hunter Stadium with the pitch being completely resurfaced; work is scheduled to be completed just days before their first home game in round five. This should prevent any further “puddlegate” incidents, even though that worked out well for them. Does anyone else remember that game against the Brisbane Roar last year or is it just me?

Key player
Joel Griffiths – no, no, no, stop groaning, it’s true. He’s vital to the team and still a hero to the fans. When things are darkest, fans and players alike look to him for magic. His legs may get a bit more tired than they used to, but his mind is still willing and his performances in his short stint last season were impressive. He is good with the ball at his feet and has always been potent in front goal for the Novocastrians. Stubbins will be reliant on him this year, particularly if Jeronimo and Montano don’t start well. If he can develop a good working relationship with Flores, they will be a real problem for opponents. He must keep his cool though; the Jets cannot afford to lose him through silly suspensions.     

One to watch
Although he’s seen limited game time over the last two seasons due to season ending ACL injuries, Mitch Cooper is one to keep your eye on. The former Gold Coast United striker and youngest captain in A-League history is still only 20 years old and will be looking to regain the form which saw him selected for the Australian U-17 side in 2011. With no exact certainty of where the Jets goals will come from and limited supply of midfielders, Cooper may well see some decent game time. The midfielder is skilled in possession and is a classy finisher, so watch for him to make the most of the chances afforded to him this season.

Full squad list
1. Mark BIRIGHITTI (GK), 2. Scott NEVILLE, 3. Taylor REGAN, 4. Kew JALIENS (c), 5. Ben KANTAROVSKI, 6. Adrian MADASCHI, 7. Jeronimo NEUMANN, 8. Zenon CARAVELLA, 9. Joel GRIFFITHS (VC), 10. Marcos FLORES, 11. Andrew HOOLE, 12. Sam GALLAGHER, 13. Edson MONTANO, 14. Billy CELESKI, 15. Josh BARRESI, 16. Jacob PEPPER, 17. James VIRGILI, 18. Allan WELSH, 19. Mitch COOPER, 20. Ben KENNEDY (GK), 21. Sam GALLAWAY, 22. Jonny STEELE, 23. David CARNEY, 25. Brandon LUNDY, 30. John SOLARI (GK)

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