A-League 2018/19 report card: Newcastle Jets

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Newcastle Jets struggled to back up their previous A-League campaign, and it’s clear to see what went wrong this season.

The Football Sack has compiled the grades an it’s now time to evaluate Newcastle’s frustrating season.

This season

A-League: Regular season – 7th (10 wins, 5 draws, 12 defeats)
AFC Champions League: Play-off exit (4-1 loss to Kashima Antlers)
FFA Cup: Round of 16 exit (1-0 loss to Melbourne City)
Top scorer: Roy O’Donovan – 11 goals 

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Season summary

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Second album syndrome exists for a reason. Once you do something magical and successful, there’s all this expectation to back it up again which makes it that much harder.

Coach Ernie Merrick has a reputation for failing to string together good seasons consecutively, but it’s unfair to place all the blame on Merrick for Newcastle’s shortcomings. A number of circumstantial factors worked against the Jets this season.

They had their backs against the wall from the get go because they relied on an unproven import to fill in the big (and high) shoes of Roy O’Donovan. Roy brings so much experience, energy and goalscoring ability to the side, and playing the first ten games without him was a massive blow. Jair just wasn’t fit or sharp enough to fill in effectively. If he had a legitimate preseason it might’ve been a different story.

Joey Champness would have been the perfect replacement, but an injury in the off-season meant the Jets would be without both Joey and Roy for a good chunk of the season. This meant they had to rely on Jason Hoffman and Jair to lead the line with Dimi Petratos and Ronny Vargas doing their best to pull the strings in the front third.

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This didn’t really work at all, and Newcastle’s woes in front of goal continued for the entirety of the season. They lost an annoying game against Wellington Phoenix in the first game, and this set the tone for the rest of the campaign. The Jets were hopeless in front of goal and failed to string consecutive wins in the A-League all season.

Their brightest period was in February when Newcastle got their Asian Champions League campaign underway with a win and proceeded to defeat Melbourne City 3-1 only three days later. O’Donovan and Champness seemed to be back into the swing of things and it looked like the Jets were a distant shout for finals qualification.

Unfortunately they ran out of steam, and a loss at home to the Central Coast Mariners was the nail in the coffin. It just didn’t click for the Jets this year. A tremendous lack of finishing ability was the obvious area that let the Jets down in a relatively flat and uninspired season.

Areas in need of improvement

The Jets seemed to lack a definitive plan in attack. In the previous season, the Jets attacked with pace in transition and were deadly. The play styles of the attackers complimented each other.

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Newcastle’s attack this season was clunky and dysfunctional, like trying to unlock a door by throwing keys at it. Petratos and Vargas in particular struggled more than anybody expected. They seemed to get in each other’s way and neither of those players are particularly effective in wider areas.

Both are technically gifted and can pull the strings as a number 10 but Vargas and Petratos spent far too much time in wide areas, cutting inside and doing not much. There wasn’t an outlet of pace for them to direct their through balls and intelligent passes.

Another obvious weakness for the Jets this season was their actual finishing. They missed too many easy chances and this haunted them. O’Donovan helped in this department upon his return, but he easily could’ve scored more than 11 given how many easy chances he squandered.

Defensively and in midfield, the Jets were sound. We saw the occasional mistake at the back, but overall the Jets had a fairly solid foundation even if it lacked tempo and creativity from time to time.

Top student

Nikolai Topor-Stanley is 34 years old and played every single minute for the Jets this season in all competitions. That’s 2430 minutes of football. What a bloody machine.

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Not only did he play a whole lot, but he played well too. Every team needs an assured and cool head in the heart of defence. He functions as a great leader, organises the whole backline, and probably should be captain (but that’s an argument for another time).

A quick honourable mention for Glen Moss too; absolutely bossed it between the sticks.

Class clown

Unfortunately it’s got to be Jair. He just never hit his stride, despite showing encouraging signs on occasion. It was always going to be difficult to have an immediate impact in the A-League carrying a half-injury and a lack of fitness. Jair is the quintessential Jets marquee, but you could tell he really cared.

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Outlook

Just below average. Let’s not forget how horrible the Jets were pre-Merrick. This season is Leicester City 2015/16 compared to the Miller/Stubbins nightmare era. Merrick is a good coach and the team has a number of players with a bright future.

This whole season felt like a hangover from the grand final last season. A hangover haunted by the ghost of Andrew Nabbout and VAR. If the Jet’s can manage a smooth and effective off-season and recruit well, there’s no reason why they can’t establish themselves as a genuine finals contender next time around.

Grade: D+

Featured Image Credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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