Hyundai A-League Semi Final preview: Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City
Grand Final dreams go on the line when Newcastle Jets welcome an in-form Melbourne City to a packed McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
From wooden spooners to second place, the Jets have already stunned pre-season expectations by booking a home Semi Final under the guidance of Ernie Merrick.
But they will not want the fairytale to end there as a first Finals Series match in six years brings it with the promise of greater glory.
City, meanwhile, are unbeaten in all three meetings between the teams this term and are on the precipice of a maiden appearance on Australian football's biggest stage.
With a huge turnout expected, the scene is set for a cracker.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS THIS SEASON
Round 9 - Newcastle Jets 1-2 Melbourne City
Arguably the game that made City's season as they came from behind to snap a four-game winless run.
Having fallen behind to Andrew Nabbout's fifth of the season, the sluggish visitors were handed a lifeline when Ross McCormack was bundled over in the box and converted the resultant penalty.
And, having been kept in the game thanks to Dean Bouzanis' earlier string of saves, City made the reprieves count by snatching a late winner, Manny Muscat the unlikely hero with a thunderous 86th-minute volley that inflicted the Jets' first home loss.
Round 18 - Melbourne City 2-2 Newcastle Jets
Two confident teams shared the points in a pulsating clash in McCormack's final match in the Hyundai A-League.
Newcastle arrived at AAMI Park and immediately looked like spoiling the party as Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Jason Hoffman scored either side of Daniel Arzani's penalty.
Dario Vidosic restored parity in the 82nd minute to seemingly set the stage for McCormack to deliver a parting gift but, just as his stoppage-time lob of Jack Duncan was about to nestle in the back of the net, Steven Ugarkovic came from nowhere to hack the ball off the line and deny the striker a dream farewell.
Round 25 - Newcastle Jets 0-3 Melbourne City
City's most recent trip to the Hunter will fill them with confidence for Friday night's encounter.
Joyce's men were on top from start to finish as Bruno Fornaroli's first-half strike and a late Dario Vidosic double - the second a thumping free-kick - did the damage.
The result came in the middle of a worry pre-Finals Series wobble for the Jets which saw them drop three straight.
Last five (old to new): W, L, L, L, W
Newcastle emphatically bounced back to their best form with that sensational Round 27 crushing of Central Coast Mariners.
It was a much-needed confidence-booster after a run of three successive defeats, and Ernie Merrick might have wished he could have carried it on last weekend.
Last five (old to new): W, W, W, L, W
City looked completely at ease with their game in brushing past Brisbane Roar in last weekend's Elimination Final.
They have now four of the last five, with the lone defeat a forgettable trip to Wellington that was inconsequential to their ladder position.
Newcastle Jets: Nigel Boogaard is set to make a miraculous recovery from a fractured tibia sustained in March to feature in the Jets' matchday squad. He is expected to be joined by Ronny Vargas, who has overcome a groin problem. Ben Kantarovski will miss the match, although Wayne Brown is not out of contention.
Melbourne City: Michael Jakobsen has been ruled out again with a quad injury with Osama Malik to continue alongside the ever-present Bart Schenkeveld in the heart of defence.
WHAT THEY SAID
Roy O'Donovan (Newcastle Jets striker): "The team has done terrifically well all year and we need to finish strong. Definitely the Mariners was a turning point, I felt. I'm looking forward to us against Melbourne City, giving it our all and giving a better account of ourselves than we did the last time."
Dario Vidosic (Melbourne City attacker): "We've got enough threats and defensively we're well organised so we go there with confidence. But we know it's going to be tough. They've sold a lot of tickets, they're going to a have a lot of home support, they're going to come out firing and fresh after the weekend off. So we know we've got to be putting our best foot forward from the first whistle."
Newcastle Jets have won their last three Finals Series games at McDonald Jones Stadium and have only lost one Hyundai A-League post-season home match in their history, dating back to the inaugural season against Central Coast.
Newcastle Jets 2-3 Melbourne City (AET)