The A-League season is just over a week away, and Wednesday sees our preview of the Newcastle Jets by Camilo Zannoni. Newcastle have been one of the most active teams in shaking up their squad this off-season and will be hoping that can help improve on a 7th placing last season.
Manager: Phil Stubbins
Captain: Kew Jaliens
Ins: Adrian Madaschi (Jeju United), Joshua Barresi (Western Sydney), Marcos Flores (Central Coast), Edson Montano (Club Barcelona SC), Jonny Steele (New York Red Bulls), Sam Gallagher (Hanoi T&T), Jeronimo Neumann (Adelaide United), Bill Celeski (Liaoning Whowin), Allan Welsh (Croydon Kings).
Outs: Emile Heskey (Free), Connor Chapman (Melbourne City), James Brown (Melbourne City), Michael Bridges (retired), Ruben Zadkovic (Perth Glory), Joey Gibbs (Free), Josh Mitchell (Free), Zenon Caravella (Free), Adam Taggart (Fulham), Josh Brilliante (Fiorentina).
Last Season: 7th
2013-14 was… Yet another disappointment for the Jets and their 10 thousand-odd members, who once again had to witness their team fall just short of making the finals after inconsistent performances saw them finish 7th. The newly appointed Gary van Egmond had a rather underwhelming start to the season, recording just five wins from 17 games and yet, it seems as if his sacking was somewhat unwarranted. Of course results are demanded, especially with the likes of veteran Emile Heskey, young starlet Josh Brillante and the prolific Adam Taggart on the roster, but it seems that van Egmond should have been allowed to see the season out. The reason cited for his dismissal was an urgent need to qualify for finals but the gamble did not pay off, with interim replacement Clayton Zane managing just 17 points from a possible 36. Though it can sometimes pay off to bring in a new manager, one who is looking to instil both belief and tactical quality into a squad, a lot can be said for stability and in the end the Jets paid for it.
Throughout the season, Newcastle also had to deal with the instability borne from an uncertainty of ownership beyond the end season, with Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Mining Group seemingly suffering from a rather nasty decline in financial stability, resulting in the sale of rugby league club the Newcastle Knights. This meant that the club was likely to be sold on in an attempt for Tinkler to settle his books and the announcement came in late August, though the suggested potential for foreign investment does allow for a certain belief that the club has the opportunity for growth like Melbourne City.
2014-15 will be… An important season for the Jets in more ways than one. First of all, Newcastle is the only A-League side to have missed out on the finals in the last four years, with every other team having taken part in at least one series in that period. This combined with the looming sale of the franchise means that the board will very likely be pushing for results on the pitch, and if newly appointed manager Phil Stubbins doesn’t produce, then he may share the same fate as his predecessor.
The Jets made some rather good moves in the transfer market in the pre-season, and if the players they have invested in provide the quality that they are seemingly capable of, then there is all the chance that Newcastle could present a fluid, well organised squad to potential buyers, appeasing the fans and adding to their somewhat fruitful if not short history. A-League star Marcos Flores was an excellent capture and provided he stays fit, could certainly make a great impact in the final third. With Heskey leaving and having lost Taggart to Championship side Fulham, Stubbins has the opportunity to create a new dynamic in attack, and it will be up to Joel Griffiths and new boys Jeronimo Neumann and Eduardo Montara to provide the spark up front.
Key Player: Kew Jaliens. Though Newcastle had a fairly threatening attack last season, with the likes of Taggart simply banging goals in at his own leisure (and with a golden boot to show for it), Newcastle really suffered in the defensive third, with a particular lowlight being the 1-2 loss to Perth Glory after leading with 10 minutes to go, effectively ending their finals hopes. Newcastle conceded 34 goals in 27 season regular season matches, matching their goals scored tally and managed just seven clean sheets, with two of those coming in draws. It will be up to newly appointed club captain Jaliens to instill some defensive stability in his team. Stubbins has stated that he wants to “play a good, vibrant brand of football; [We want] to get the ball down on the deck and play” and while that philosophy may inspire a positive attacking mindset, it will be all for nothing if he doesn’t manage to shore up the defence.
What, or whom, do Newcastle need? Balance. In order for the Newcastle Jets to impose themselves on the 10th season of the A-League, Stubbins will have to ensure that his players understand the importance of a balanced display. After last season’s shambolic finish, that season-defining 10 minute collapse against Perth, as well as the lack of defensive stability throughout the season, it will be important for the Jets to find that balance between a rather fruitful attack and a very frail defence. Taggart proved last season that there are goals and chances in this side, and Jeronimo and Montano both seem to be rather shrewd signings, with the former already carrying A-League experience, while the latter, a loanee, has enjoyed football in one of the most technically minded countries in the world. This attacking threat will prove to be rather aimless however, if Stubbins fails to instil defensive stability, and it will be up to key man and club captain Jaliens to organise his men and lead by example.
The Blog FC predicted finish: 8th