How Newcastle Jets can return to the six

With less than two months until the start of the 2017/18 Hyundai A-League season, all ten teams have the top six in their sights.

But what do the sides that missed the finals last season have to do this time to avoid a repeat?

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We start with Newcastle Jets under new coach Ernie Merrick, who will be trying to engineer a Finals Football finale for the first time since 2010 at the Hunter club. 

FORGET LAST SEASON

The end of the Jets' 2016/17 campaign can best be described as catastrophic.

Newcastle went winless in their last ten outings and lost their last six, during which they didn't score a single goal from open play.

Those horrendous three months saw them fall from a spot in the top six to dead-last.

While many of the players involved have moved on, any hangover from last season needs to be well and truly consigned to the rubbish bin well before October arrives.

Ernie Merrick only took charge of his first Newcastle Jets training session last week but the Scotsman has been impressed with what he’s seen in his short stint at the club.

DEFEND BETTER

The Jets conceded more goals last season than anyone else, leaking 53 at an average of nearly two per game.

The return of Nikolai Topor-Stanley should help shore up the rearguard considerably with he and skipper Nigel Boogaard boasting 430 Hyundai A-League appearances between them, making them easily the most experienced central defensive pairing in the competition.

The arrival of Glen Moss to challenge Jack Duncan for the first-choice goalkeeping spot should also help matters.

SCORE MORE

As well as being defensively fragile, the Jets were also regularly ineffective at the other end, with only the Mariners scoring fewer goals than Newcastle's 28.

It was a point Merrick made early on, saying the Jets needed to get into better scoring positions. 

Their meagre tally certainly wasn't helped by a complete drought in the final five games of the season, but off-season moves have been made to address the issue with the arrivals of the Petratos brothers, Dimi and Kosta, rugged central striker Roy O'Donovan and attack-minded fullback Daniel Georgievski. 

TIGHTEN UP ON THE ROAD

While the Jets were relatively hard to beat at home, losing just four of 13 games at McDonald Jones Stadium, they were nowhere near as solid on their travels, losing 11 of their 14 away matches.

Even the other three teams to miss the six were considerably better in their away games, each losing just eight times.

Making the six comes as a result of winning often at home and picking up points regularly on the road; the Jets had a glaring issue with the latter last season.    

BUY INTO ERNIE'S PLANS

There won't be too many surprises around the philosophy adopted by new coach Ernie Merrick.

During his time at Victory and then Phoenix he encouraged a front-half, possession-based brand of football that was fun to watch and brought reasonable results, especially in Melbourne.

But the system requires faith from all of its participants and forces some players to leave their comfort zones, even if they'd played a certain way for their entire careers.

Tomorrow we look at Adelaide United