Preview: Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Heart
Head to head:
Played: 9 - Wins: Jets 4, Heart 3. Draws: 2
Newcastle Jets 2-0 Melbourne Heart, February 15, 2013.
Past five matches:
Gary van Egmond and his players will be salivating at the prospect of taking on the competition's crisis team. After their own slow start to 2013-14, the Jets have come good in recent weeks, and knocked off early-season front-runners Brisbane Roar in an impressive 2-1 home win last weekend, building on a victory away to Adelaide by the same scoreline in Round 5.
The Heart meanwhile have steadily gone from bad to worse as the campaign has progressed, and reached a new low on Friday, going 2-0 at home to Sydney FC . Previously, John Aloisi's team had been earnest but unpolished, enjoying good spells in matches but failing - as their coach continually reminded us - to put away numerous chances. Their last, limp outing was a different matter altogether, with a team supposedly desperate to record their first victory of the season allowing themselves to be snuffed out with barely a whimper. A major improvement in attitude and endeavour will be expected this Sunday, and Aloisi knows his job is well and truly on the line. Positive results must arrive soon, or the axe will fall.
The big issue:
Jets - Consistency. Is the recent good form of the previously unpredictable Jets here to stay or will they continue to chalk up wins? The team from the Hunter have boasted a crop of undeniably talented youngsters for several seasons now, but have lacked the experience and killer instinct necessary to make a real impact. Now, with more games under the collective belt of their callow youths and several good senior players helping them along, Van Egmond's side are better placed than ever to go on a genuine run.
Heart - Goals = wins. The equation is very simple for Aloisi and his struggling charges. Get the ball in the back of the net and they have a change of winning a game. Win some games, and the coach may keep his job. Just how they go about scoring remains to be seen. There is plenty of attacking talent in red and white - Malta international Michael Mifsud knows the route to goal, as do David Williams, Iain Ramsay and Mate Dugandzic. But unless they overcome the mental barrier preventing them from converting, the storm clouds will continue to gather over Melbourne's newer club.
Michael Mifsud - brought in specifically to give Heart genuine bite in the final third, the ex-Coventry City man is yet to get the job done, and although it's still early in his A-League adventure, the experienced international striker has to come good soon if he is bail out the coach and administration who engineered his move Down Under. The Jets will be without Dutch centre-back Kew Jaliens due to suspension, and Mifsud has to seize on whatever disruption there may be in the Newcastle backline to kick-start his and the Heart's season.
Prediction: Newcastle Jets 3-1 Melbourne Heart
Heart's goal drought has to end sometime, and a trip to the Hunter Stadium - hardly a fortress by any stretch of the imagination - is as good a place as any to do so. But the Jets are up and about, and if ever there was a team ripe for the taking it is Aloisi's sorry bunch. Newcastle are young, hungry and will be go into the game with the confidence of a side who have registered two impressive wins in succession. This is football and anything can happen - we wouldn't bother watching otherwise - but the home team will start as clear and deserved favourites.