Can the high-flying Jets defy the odds against Sydney FC?

Regardless of the result against runaway leaders Sydney FC on Wednesday night, Newcastle Jets will sit at least four points clear in second at the end of Round 14.

It’s quite an achievement for a team which has failed to make the Hyundai A-League Finals Series in seven consecutive seasons.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that the Jets have played almost the entire season without their best player - Ronny Vargas.

When the Venezuelan marquee went down with a sickening ankle injury against the Roar in Round 3, media and fans alike questioned the Jets’ ability to cover such a massive loss.

The silky playmaker was brought to the Jets to provide the x-factor the club has sorely missed since the likes of Nicky Carle and Milton Rodriguez.

And despite only playing two and a half games for the Hunter-based outfit, it was clear the ex-AEK Athens attacker had the potential to be one of the league’s top signings.

The loss had the potential to derail what was a bright start to the season for the Jets.

After all, Newcastle’s poor record in recent seasons has shown brittleness when faced with adversity.

But with two-time Championship winner Ernie Merrick in charge, this Jets side is made of sterner stuff.

With Merrick employing an aggressive and attack-first philosophy within his team, Newcastle have enjoyed one of their best-ever starts to a Hyundai A-League season.

With eight wins and two draws in their first 13 matches, the Jets are flying high.

Merrick’s shrewd decision to deploy winger Dimi Petratos in the central attacking midfield role has been a masterstroke.

Dimi Petratos
Dimitri Petratos has been in superb form for the Jets under Ernie Merrick.

The former Roar flyer has excelled in the playmaker role, notching five goals and five assists as Newcastle continue to defy the odds.

But he’s not alone.

In the absence of star striker Roy O’Donovan, Andrew Nabbout has deputized admirably with an impressive six goals and five assists for the campaign.

In another massive blow, O’Donovan, who had netted seven goals in seven appearances, was ruled out for up to three months with a groin injury in Round 10.

But with Merrick encouraging his side to share the goal-scoring responsibility, the Jets have continued to find the net with regularity.

In 13 matches, only Sydney (33 goals) have found the net with more regularity (30 goals).

The much-maligned Ben Kantarovski has pitched in with three goals, while Jason Hoffman (two), Joe Champness (two), Steve Ugarkovic (two) and Johnny Koutroumbis (two) have all contributed.

While their attacking output has been impressive, unheralded defensive midfield duo Kantarovski and Ugarkovic have been integral to the side’s success.

Ben Kantarovski
Ben Kantarovski has been an unsung hero in the Jets' surge to second spot.

Their work ethic and ability to break up the play has released the likes of Petratos and Nabbout to create chances in the final third.

Experienced central defenders Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Nigel Boogaard have provided a solid platform at the back too, with Newcastle conceding just 15 goals for the campaign.

And with Argentinian attacker Patito Rodriguez and Aussie midfielder Riley McGree set to boost the Jets in January, a long-awaited finals appearance looks well in reach.

Throw in the return of O’Donovan - and potentially Vargas - and Jets fans could well be dreaming of more.

But Newcastle will get a stern test of their Championship credentials when they face a rampant Sydney FC outfit at Allianz Stadium on Wednesday night.

Fresh from a 6-0 drubbing of Perth Glory, Graham Arnold’s men sit eight points clear at the top of the ladder.

Led by Polish star Adrian Mierzejewski and Johnny Warren Medalist Milos Ninkovic, the Sky Blues appear to be in a class of their own.

And with Newcastle missing skipper Nigel Boogaard (concussion), Ivan Vujica (suspended) and Nick Cowburn (international duty), Sydney will rightly be huge favourites on Wednesday.

But don’t write off the Jets.

They’ve overcome the odds all season and you’d be a brave punter to tip against them doing it again at Allianz.

After all, it’s first versus second.

Bring it on!