Jigsaw Jets coming together

Within a matter of hours, new Jets signing Labinot Haliti went from sitting in his hotel room thinking his first Newcastle appearance in nearly three years would have to wait, to scoring an equaliser against the defending champions and celebrating his Hyundai A-League return in style. Welcome to the reality of Branko Culina's Newcastle Jets.

Within a matter of hours, new Jets signing Labinot Haliti went from sitting in his hotel room thinking his first Newcastle appearance in nearly three years would have to wait, to scoring an equaliser against the defending champions and celebrating his Hyundai A-League return in style. Welcome to the reality of Branko Culina's Newcastle Jets.

In an era where every ounce of preparation is meticulously managed, it is refreshing to see a coach throw caution to the wind and decide an hour from kick-off to offer an opportunity for someone like Haliti to prove the difference between the Jets going home empty-handed and taking away a respectable draw.

"It was a very late decision," Culina admitted. "We had to make a decision about Fabio (Vignaroli), we left it as late as possible. I'd made my mind up about the starting XI two hours before kick-off, then Labinot was a last-minute decision. I called him in his room just before we left the hotel. That was a risk, because he hasn't played football for a while. I like what I see, and he certainly did his bit today," the Jets coach said.

Hailiti came on as a second-half substitute as Culina looked to invigorate a side which was missing Vignaroli and Sasho Petrovski, both of whom failed to back up from the 1-0 win over Gold Coast four days earlier.

"We played on Sunday against the best team in the competition, we gave it everything. Then ended up having to replace three players, and bring in new players who are still underdone," he said.

"We decided we would give some of the younger boys a go, and fresher legs. At one stage we had five under-21 players on the park. That's a lot. No other team in the competition has that many young players on at the same time. But that's the situation we are in and I'm happy with the progress the younger players are making."

The young Jets outfit had struggled to break down Melbourne's defence for over an hour, but when Haliti and Donny De Groot arrived, things started to look a lot more positive. Post-match Culina praised his side's persistence in firstly staying in the game after Archie Thompson's 42nd-minute goal and then finding the equaliser.

"It's important if you are going to be a top team. But we played reasonable well toward the end. We had to change our formation three times because we were not in the game. We started with 4-4-2 then went to 4-3-3, then at half-time we changed to a diamond shape in the midfield because we wanted to get more of the ball," he said.

Culina's approach is in stark contrast to that of his opposite number Ernie Merrick, who is renowned for sticking with his plan, even when things aren't going his way.

But Culina is in a very different situation to Merrick, who has had the better part of three years to get his personnel together. Culina has only been coach for just over two months and is still trying to decide how to get the best out of his enigmatic but talented bunch.

"It's going to take a bit of time because we don't have a settled squad. We're still missing a number of players. Hopefully we'll get better, because we not only have players to come in, but we need to understand each other," he said.

"The thing that excited me about this team is that I know where we are at the moment, and I know how much more improvement there is in this side, both with the ball and without the ball. With a bit more time and match fitness, this could be a reasonable side."