A-League: Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix
Played: 20 - Wins: Jets 5, Phoenix 12, Draws: 3
Phoenix 0-0 Jets, October 27, 2013
Past five matches:
Newcastle's winless run has stretched to a worrying six games and as a result the Jets are now second from bottom on the A-League ladder. But there were positive signs for Clayton Zane's troops in last weekend's draw with the Western Sydney Wanderers, with the Jets coming from behind to snatch a well-earned point. In a blow though they will be missing striker Joel Griffiths for the next two-games after his brain-snap after the final whistle last weekend, receiving a red card for a tirade at referee Ben Williams. Emile Heskey, who was injured in the warm-up last week, is desperate to play while Socceroos defender David Carney is available after a solid week on the training pitch.
There's no fresh injury concerns for Wellington, who have known for some time now they will be without Paul Ifill (Achilles) and Louis Fenton (shoulder) for the rest of the season. But those who have stepped into the breach are doing a superb job as the Phoenix are now just a point out of the finals positions after a run of four wins from their last six games. And it's not just at home Ernie Merrick's side have been formidable, with two wins from their last three games on the road meaning they won't fear a trip to the Hunter on Sunday.
The big issue:
Jets – Confidence. If Zane has one job to achieve since taking over from Gary van Egmond, it's restoring some confidence and belief to the struggling Newcastle side. The Jets have yet to win a match in 2014 and it's seen them fall from comfortably in the top six to second from bottom. A win can change everything of course but unless Zane can get his troops playing without fear, it might be easier said than done.
Phoenix – Late fadeouts. While the Kiwis have been among the form sides in the A-League over the last month they have developed a tendency to switch off late in matches in recent weeks. The Phoenix have conceded late goals against both Brisbane and Adelaide in the last fortnight and while they managed to beat the Reds, it cost them a point against the league-leading Roar. Merrick will need to ensure this doesn't become a habit over the remainder of the season.
The game breaker:
Adam Taggart – After a real hot-streak in front of goal early in the campaign, things have dried up for Taggart over the last couple of months. That was until last weekend, when the Socceroos attacker's brace ensured the Jets took a point off high-flying Western Sydney. Taggart seems to enjoy leading the line when Heskey – and now Griffiths – are absent and he's likely to get that chance to impress again this weekend.
Prediction: Jets 2-2 Phoenix
After a spirited draw against the Wanderers last weekend, we expect the Jets to come out firing for the visit of Wellington. The addition of Carney adds some experience and class down the left which has been missing at times this season. The Phoenix's hopes could hinge on the likes of Carlos Hernandez and Steyn Huysegems maintaining their string attacking form while the likes of former Jet Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund keep the back door shut. A victory is crucial to both sides in their quest to get into the top six...so it probably means they'll share the points.