Preview: Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix
Played: 21, Wins: Jets 5, Phoenix 13, Draws: 3
Jets 2-3 Phoenix, February 9 2014
Past five matches:
Yet another must-win game for Newcastle and Wellington at Hunter Stadium on Saturday if either wants to sneak into the top six. The Phoenix have been hit by injuries, slowing their stunning winless run that had made them look like top-six certainties after a slow start. Ernie Merrick's side are winless in their past three, but have a good record at Hunter Stadium and against the Jets. While the Phoenix are three points behind sixth-placed Adelaide, the Jets are two points behind the Reds in seventh. Clayton Zane's men suffered a 3-1 loss to the Central Coast last time out and need to bounce back.
The big issue:
Jets – overcoming what is a poor record against the Phoenix, particularly at home. Wellington have won on five of nine trips to Hunter Stadium, with their 55.56 per cent winning percentage the best they hold at any A-League ground. The Jets have been far from impressive at home with three wins in 11 and need to turn that around to have any chance of claiming a crucial three points.
Phoenix – injuries – and now a suspension – have hit the Phoenix hard, with the likes of Carlos Hernandez, Paul Ifill, Louis Fenton, Albert Riera and Reece Caira sidelined. Ben Sigmund's red card in the 2-2 draw against Melbourne Heart also rules him out of the trip to Newcastle. Wellington's depth is being tested, but they have shown themselves to be capable of dealing with the absences and being competitive.
The game breaker:
Stein Huysegems – the Belgian has gone three games without a goal, but did net last time the Phoenix played the Jets in a cracking match that resulted in a 3-2 victory for Wellington. Huysegems needs to get back to his best form if the Phoenix are going to make the finals and potentially do some damage when and if they get there. With 10 goals, he is just one behind the top scorers.
Prediction: Jets 1-2 Phoenix
Despite their injury worries, Wellington seem to enjoy playing in Newcastle and like playing the Jets. With 13 wins in 21 meetings, and an excellent record at Hunter Stadium, the Phoenix have proven a bogey team of sorts for Newcastle. Merrick's side have enough attacking talent to worry the Jets, who will need Adam Taggart firing up front in a crucial clash between two teams chasing a finals place.