A-League: Newcastle Jets v Adelaide United
Played: 30, Wins: Jets 8, Adelaide 12, Draws: 10
Adelaide 1-0 Jets, December 29 2013
Past five matches:
Adelaide have a chance to apply pressure on the other teams vying for second place when they play first in the final round of the regular season. Josep Gombau's team are fourth on the table, level on 38 points with fifth-placed Melbourne Victory and one point behind both third-placed Central Coast and second-placed Western Sydney. Thanks to their free-flowing attacking football, the Reds have a significantly better goal difference than their rivals. If either the Wanderers or the Mariners win on Saturday, Adelaide's hopes of finishing second will be dashed. A draw will suffice only if none of the other three teams wins their respective games.
The Jets meanwhile need to win and hope Sydney FC lose at home to Perth Glory on Sunday, with a four-goal swing across the two games also required to see Newcastle finish in the top six. Clayton Zane's side have a goal difference of -2 compared to Sydney's +1, meaning a 2-0 Jets win and 2-0 loss for the Sky Blues would do the trick for the Hunter Stadium club. But it would appear unlikely they are capable of beating Adelaide so comprehensively, and would still have to rely on Frank Farina's team, three points ahead in the standings, slipping up on the last day.
The big issue:
Jets – Newcastle cannot afford to be anything less than clinical in front of goal and, in the unlikely event they enjoy any significant possession on Friday night, need to create more chances than they did against Melbourne Victory last Saturday evening. The Jets had more of the ball against an away team lacking energy on the heavy Hunter Stadium surface, but failed to make it count on the scoreboard. Any openings Adelaide offer must be seized upon if the hosts are to have a chance of performing a finals miracle.
Adelaide – The Reds are likely to be wary of the dreadful pitch that has rightly caused so much negative publicity in recent weeks. Pirtek Stadium, ANZ Stadium and AAMI Park have also suffered since the NRL and Super Rugby seasons resumed, but the Hunter Stadium surface is by far the worst in the competition. Not only is it capable of interfering with Adelaide's slick passing football, it could also cause injuries the Reds cannot afford if they are to spring a surprise in the playoffs. Double strapping and perhaps a brace or two may be required for any suspect joints.
The game breaker:
Marcelo Carrusca - The playmaker has been in brilliant form during the second half of the 2013-14 season, rivalling Thomas Broich and Guilherme Finkler for the title of the competition's most inventive, threatening playmaker. The vast majority of Adelaide's dynamic attacking play either goes through the Argentine or is positively influenced by his intelligent positioning and movement off the ball. With Zenon Caravella injured, one of Ruben Zadkovich or Ben Kantarovski will be detailed to try and curtail Carrusca's influence. But will that important task leave the Jets' backline exposed to threats from elsewhere?
Prediction: Newcastle 1-3 Adelaide United
We expect a Jets side burdened by the weight of expectation and haunted by their costly late lapses away to Perth and at home to Victory to be overpowered by an Adelaide side hurting but still exhilarated by their dramatic and controversial 2-2 draw with Heart last time out. Having been largely written off earlier this season, the Reds have everything to play for and little to lose, meaning a marker will be laid down to the other top-two hopefuls in the curtain-raiser to the final round.