Another wooden spoon on its way or a better season ahead? FourFourTwo tells you what to expect…
Newcastle Jets fans are getting used to mediocrity and used to not making the finals. The 2014/2015 fiasco was the fifth season that the Jets failed to make the top six, and things went from bad to worse with head coach Phil Stubbins as owner Nathan Tinkler.
Both are gone, with the FFA running the show for now and the unproven Scott Miller appointed coach. Surely the Jets can’t be as diabolical this season as they were in the last campaign, when they finished rock bottom? But a lack of squad talent, along with Miller’s inexperience, means big questions need to be answered.
Todd Blackwell: “Anything above a ‘Tinkastrophe’ is a success. The way the squad is coming together I don't think a top six finish is out of the question. I don't think the Jets have a deadset standout player. The Newy culture introduced here by Scott Miller and his support staff has led to us having a really tight squad on and off the field.
Our two recent overseas imports Leonardo Santiago and Milos Trifunovic have both hit the ground running and look good. I'm looking forward to someone putting his hand up for the ‘Golden God’ of Newy football title, it's there for the taking – Andy Brennan as my wildcard pick.
There's a really good vibe here on and off the paddock. The only thing I see as an issue is the handing over to the new owner. Acting CEO David Eland told the fans at Saturday's Jets Store opening it will be some time this season. Sounds a bit vague to me.”
Why they’ll do well
The players rebelled under Stubbins, were unpaid under Tinkler and that situation has changed. Stability has returned to the club and the players appear positive and happy. That has to count for something. Mark Birighitti has come back from Italy, strengthening the goal-keeping stocks, and former local junior Nigel Boogaard has come home to lead the defence. Adding wisdom and class is Mateo Poljak from the Wanderers.
Miller may be a rookie and the youngest coach in the history of the A-League, but he had a fantastic learning ground in the English Premier League under Roy Hodsgon, Mark Hughes and Martin Jol. His time at Fulham should serve him well at Hunter Stadium. He has the veteran Jean Paul de Marigny alongside him – a wily operator who helped Melbourne Victory to double delight. With fresh blood on the touchline, some new spark from overseas in the form of Leonardo and Trifunovic, and the Jets should surprise some teams.
Why they’ll do badly
After years of hurt under the Tinkler administration the fans are wary and want to see results before reaffirming their commitment. Hunter Sports Group left lots of creditors unpaid across the Hunter, leaving a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Investment in the roster has also been small, with FFA pulling the purse strings, so Miller does not have a lot to work with.
The Jets squad cannot compete in ability with the likes of Victory and Sydney FC, let alone Perth and Brisbane. Newcastle needs former Socceroo David Carney to fire. Last season he spent most of his time quarrelling with Stubbins.
There has also been talk of a contract termination for Miller if new owners – believed to be a consortium led by Dundee United’s Stephen Thompson – come in. More instability would surely go down like a lead balloon, with both the supporters and players. If the Jets struggle for results in the opening rounds then the pressure will rise again significantly.
The big questions
Is Scott Miller ready for a first-team job?
Miller has never coached a first-team after spending his whole career as an assistant at Fulham. At 34 he may not have the experience to call all the shots. Miller has focused on organising his team, making sure they do not leak easy goals like they did repeatedly last term. The Victorian seems a positive character, and he will need to keep his warmth and charm to keep the harmony at the once fragile club.
Can they score more goals?
The Jets scored just 16 goals from 27 matches in 2014/2015, an average of 0.59 per game. No matter the league, no matter the opposition, you are not going to win games with that kind of strike rate. The loss of Andrew Hoole and Edson Montano doesn’t help things, but there is hope that Labinot Haliti, Trifunovic, Leonardo and Avilodic can provide goals. The Jets will need attacking threats from across the park, not just their frontline, to trouble opponents.
Will FFA running the club be a help or a hindrance?
The governing body has saved the club and mostly smoothed the waters after the fractured Tinkler administration. But the search for a new coach wasn’t all smooth sailing, with Mark Rudan supposedly in but then out again, before they settled on Miller. The FFA is running Brisbane Roar at the same time and doesn’t appear keen to provide the cash the Jets need, and perhaps a marquee, for the 2015/2016 season. The saga over ongoing negotiations with Thompson has the potential to unsettle things.
Key player: Mateo Poljak
Poljak is tough, experienced and versatile. He is a proven winner – a leader and a fighter – who doesn’t take a backward step. That’s certainly what the Jets need and they need the German to be back to his best – like he was at Western Sydney when they won the Asian Champions League and Premiership – for this campaign to be successful. The Croatian midfielder is central to any Jets resurrection.
What they’ll be saying come April
There was improvement from the Novocastrians but they still have a long way to go. Miller and his team have potential but need time to grow.
They’ll escape the wooden spoon – just – 9th.
Mark Birighitti (Varese - end of loan)
Nigel Boogaard (Adelaide United)
Andy Brennan (South Melbourne)
Labinot Haliti (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Jason Hoffman (Melbourne City)
Lachlan Jackson (Brisbane Roar)
Themba Muata-Marlow (Sydney FC)
Mateo Poljak (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Milos Trifunovic (FK Radnicki Nis)
Leonardo Vitor Santiago (free)
Cameron Watson (free)
Zenon Caravella (released)
Travis Cooper (Adamstown Rosebud)
Sam Gallagher (released)
Andrew Hoole (Sydney FC)
Edson Montano (Barcelona SC - end of loan)
Scott Neville (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Jacob Pepper (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Taylor Regan (released)
John Solari (released)
Jess Vanstrattan (retired)
James Virgili (released)
Allan Welsh (released)comments