Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets
Played 30 - Wins: Mariners 10, Jets 9, Draws: 11
Jets 2 - 2 Mariners, November 2, 2013
Past five matches
Newcastle Jets will enter the 31st F3 Derby with a new coach and the likelihood that key youngsters Adam Taggart, Andrew Hoole, Josh Brillante and Connor Chapman will all be available to take on the Mariners. The quartet have been at the AFC Under 22 Championships for the past two games but Australia was eliminated by Saudi Arabia this week, meaning they could be ready for Saturday's clash at Bluetongue Stadium.
The timing of the youngsters' collective return underlines the strangeness of Newcastle's decision to sack Gary van Egmond on Monday. Despite having failed to win in four matches, the Jets remain just one point outside the A-League's top six and with Taggart, Hoole, Brillante and Chapman back, plus the impending arrival of Joel Griffiths, Van Egmond arguably had Newcastle fairly well placed for the remainder of the campaign.
Instead it will be former National Youth League coach Clayton Zane in charge on Saturday. Zane's first job will be to lead the Jets in the A-League's oldest derby. The Jets will face third-placed Central Coast who have not lost in four matches but have still yet to hit the heights of last season. While Newcastle slumped to a 3-1 loss away to Melbourne Heart last week, the Mariners claimed a 1-0 victory over Sydney FC in Round 15.
The big issue:
Mariners - Goals, or more specifically, goal-scoring chances remain Central Coast's main problem this season. The Mariners have scored less goals than every other team - bar Melbourne Heart - while they have taken just 131 shots; the least in the A-League. With Marcos Flores (injury) and Michael McGlinchey (loan to Vegalta Sendai) gone for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign, Mariners head coach Phil Moss must find a new creator if Central Coast are to defend the A-League championship.
Jets - What kind of changes can Zane make to the men in red and blue, and how quickly? Newcastle have been terribly inconsistent this season. Their best has been good enough to knock off leaders Brisbane Roar twice. Their worst has been evident over the past month. With plenty of young talent and Griffiths available to play as soon as his international transfer clearance arrives from Qingdao Jinoon , Newcastle have a talented squad. Zane just needs to find a way to get them to click.
The game breaker:
Nick Montgomery - One of just six players to have been involved in all 15 of Central Coast's games this season, Montgomery was critical to the Mariners' triumph over Sydney last week, maintaining possession and breaking up the Sky Blues' attacks. The 32-year-old Scotsman has been a model of consistency since moving to Gosford from Sheffield United before last season. Montgomery has made the most passes of any Central Coast player in 2013-14 with 382, while his accuracy of 78 percent underlines his importance to the Mariners' set-up.
Prediction: Mariners 1-0 Jets
Newcastle will head to Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night having not won in Gosford since February 2008, and their issues in front of goal makes it hard to believe they will break that hoodoo this week.
While the Jets have one of the top-four goal-scorers in the A-League this season (Taggart with six), they have only scored two in their past four matches. Taggart has failed to hit the back of the net since November and the Jets' second most prolific forward, Nathan Burns (two), has left the club with his loan deal coming to an end.
It shapes as an ideal opportunity for Moss' Mariners to put more pressure on second-placed Western Sydney on the A-League ladder. Central Coast have only scored more than one goal in two of their past 10 matches but with Daniel McBreen, Matt Simon, Mitchell Duke and Bernie Ibini available, the Mariners should have too much firepower for Newcastle.