A-League mid-season report card: Newcastle Jets

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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.

Semester Summary: The first half of the Newcastle Jets’ 2018/19 A-League season has been an underwhelming and frustrating campaign. Ernie Merrick’s side have struggled to rekindle the swashbuckling attacking prowess that made them so exciting in 2017/18.

A blueprint of that side still remains but the loss of Andrew Nabbout combined with Joey Champness’ injury and Roy O’Donovans 10 game suspension left Newcastle’s attack nowhere near as threatening it once was.

Even upon O’Donovan’s return, the Jets have still found it difficult to recreate the ruthlessness and clinical edge necessary to mount a genuine challenge at the top six.

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Defensively, the Jets have been a mixed bag. Newcastle’s defence has a habit of being the first to concede in the game, adding pressure on the attack to break down a defence that is happy to sit deep and defend their lead.

In midfield, the Jets have been quite solid. Steven Ugarkovic has been a consistent performer this season and has controlled the middle of the park with lots of industry and intelligence.

It’s been a story of performances vs. results this season. Newcastle have created chances and controlled possession in a number of games but some lacklustre finishing and the odd defensive mistake have hurt them badly.

The Jets are currently in seventh place, eight points short of Wellington Phoenix in the all important sixth spot. Merrick’s side will need to realise their potential immediately if they’re to play in the finals this season.

Areas of excellence: The depth of Newcastle’s squad has proven to be a handy asset at Merrick’s disposal as rotation has been a must thanks to the ‘Summer of Football’ congestion. Kaine Sheppard, Johnny Koutroumbis, Lachlan Jackson, Nick Cowburn and Ivan Vujica have all been beyond useful options for Merrick.

Kaine Sheppard in particular has been top notch. He’s managed to grab three goals in as many starts and plays with real class and positional awareness. All of the squad players mentioned above have filled in superbly and pose a legitimate challenge to their compatriots in the starting eleven.

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The Jets’ midfield has also been impressive. Ugarkovic has been the rock but Ben Kantarovski and Matthew Ridenton have performed well despite coming in and out of the side.

Areas in need of improvement: Goal scoring has been a massive issue. Chance creation hasn’t been too bad with Ronald Vargas and Dimi Petratos getting into dangerous positions and playing some good passes and crosses however it’s clear to see that not enough of these threatening situations have resulted in goals.

Newcastle’s defence has been inconsistent and a handful of errors have cost the Jets massively. Nigel Boogaard is the biggest offender in this department with a penalty and an own goal to his name. At times, Newcastle’s defence has looked strong but some big errors have really hurt them.

The whole side across the pitch has found it difficult to establish any sort of rhythm. You can blame this on fixture congestion or consecutive away games but a lot of the teams above Newcastle have handled these inconvenient circumstances more effectively.

Top student: Steven Ugarkovic has been the Jets’ most consistent player this season. His work rate in midfield is outstanding and he’s proven to be a good passer of the ball in linking defence with attack.

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You never really see Ugarkovic look outmatched in a midfield battle. Without his presence and cool head in the middle of the park, Newcastle’s issues in both defence and attack would be all the more prevalent and exploitable by the opposition.

Class Clown: Jair has struggled to live up to the high expectations of Jets fans so far this season. The Brazilian import has been a scapegoat for the attacking issues the Jets have had and while this may be an unfair assessment as these problems run deeper than one individual player, it is true that Jair is yet to really hit his stride: only showing flashes of promise without delivering consistent form.

You can’t fault the effort of Jair. Effort is an area that big marquee players are often lacking – take Pato Rodriguez for example last season. Despite his best efforts, Jair has struggled to fit into the oversized shoes that Andrew Nabbout left behind last season.

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Grade: C-

Outlook: Not all hope is lost just yet for the Jets. It’s a big ask but with 12 games remaining and 36 points on offer, it’s not too outlandish to suggest that Newcastle can make the finals if they start to bring some consistency to their game.

The Jets have been far worse in their history and if they can capture any fleeting modicum of the spirit we saw last season, the Jets will be a chance.

Feature image credit: Newcastle Jets

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Harry Keating
Harry Keating
Intern at The Football Sack covering The Newcastle Jets A-League and W-League home matches!

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