A-League Preview: Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory
Played: 30, Wins: Jets 13, Victory 11, Draws: 6
Jets 1-1 Victory, January 10 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
The Jets go into this game on the back of a painful - and potentially costly - loss away to Perth Glory last Sunday. The visitors led 1-0 heading down the home straight at nib Stadium, and looked set to end their long wait for a win out west. Kenny Lowe's previously hapless side had other ideas however, scoring twice in the final five minutes of normal time to snatch the points. The defeat, coupled with Sydney FC's 1-1 draw away to Melbourne Victory, left Clayton Zane's side seventh on the table, one point outside the finals places.
After being held at home by the dogged Sky Blues, Victory jumped on a plane to Japan, but had to leave several first-team players behind, and a relatively inexperienced side lost 3-2 to Yokohama F Marinos on Wednesday night as a consequence.
Kevin Muscat's team are fifth in the A-League standings, level on points with Adelaide United, one point behind third-placed Western Sydney and two back from Central Coast, the current incumbents of the prized second position. Anything is possible in the congested race for a top-two finish, but Victory must aim to take all three points at Hunter Stadium to give themselves the best chance of overtaking their rivals.
The big issue:
Jets – Newcastle must aim to win the midfield battle without Zenon Caravella, who is out for the rest of the season due injury. That leaves Ben Kantarovski and Ruben Zadkovich with the task of winning the ball and keeping possession long enough to offer the likes of Adam Taggart opportunities in attack.
Victory – The visitors are likely to get Tom Rogic, Mark Milligan, Adama Traore and Nick Ansell back for this game, while Guilherme Finkler, ineligible for the AFC Champions League, will be a certain starter in domestic competition. Leigh Broxham missed the Sydney game due to suspension but is available again, while Pablo Contreras and Kosta Barbouses - suspended for the Marinos defeat - will also be relatively fresh. All those important inclusions could spell trouble for the home side.
The game breaker:
Tom Rogic/Guilherme Finkler. Officially, Rogic was rested for the 'Big Blue' and Wednesday's ACL game due to groin soreness, but the Socceroo playmaker, on loan at Victory from Celtic, looked likely to be dropped anyway due to some underwhelming performances in recent weeks. If he returns to the starting XI on Saturday the former Mariner will be expected to produce a far more convincing display at Hunter Stadium, with the 21-year-old's work-rate and body language questioned in matches and training of late.
Regardless of whether Rogic starts or is named on the bench, he has only to look to Finkler for an example of how to influence proceedings in the final third. The Brazilian forward, out of contract at the end of the season, is in talks with Victory over a new deal, and his bravura efforts in the second half of the season will only strengthen his position at the negotiating table.
Prediction: Newcastle Jets 2-3 Melbourne Victory
Both of these teams know how to attack, but as proved by the Jets in Perth and Victory in Japan, they occasionally forget how to defend. Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas was guilty of a howler in the build-up to the Marinos' second and beaten at his near post for the goal itself. He also made it relatively easy for Sydney to score at AAMI Park last weekend by parrying a shot into the path Joel Chianese. Will Muscat consider reinstating Nathan Coe for this one? With plenty at stake and attacking talent galore on either side, we'll go for a high-scoring game and a Victory win, based on their imminent influx of key personnel.