Preview: Gold Coast v Newcastle
Gold Coast United has the chance to leapfrog Melbourne into second position on the Hyundai A-League table but to do so will have to defeat nemesis side Newcastle in what should be a thrilling Wednesday night encounter.
Date: Wednesday January 13 Kick-off: 7:30pm AEST, 8:30pm AEDT Venue: Skilled Park TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 1. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au
Head-to-head Played 2: Wins: Gold Coast United 0, Newcastle 2. Draws: 0
Previous meeting Newcastle United 3, Gold Coast United 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium, Round 18, December 2009
Past five matches: Gold Coast: Round 17: Gold Coast United 2, Central Coast Mariners 1, Skilled Park Round 18: Newcastle Jets 3, Gold Coast United 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 20: Gold Coast United 2, Perth Glory 0, Skilled Park Round 21: Gold Coast United 5, Brisbane Roar 1, Skilled Park Round 22: Gold Coast United 1, Adelaide United, Skilled Park
Newcastle Jets: Round 17: Adelaide United 0, Newcastle Jets 2, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 18: Newcastle Jets 3, Gold Coast United 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 20: Newcastle Jets 3, North Queensland 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 21: Perth Glory 4, Newcastle Jets 0, ME Bank Stadium Round 22: Newcastle Jets 3, Melbourne Victory 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium
Analysis: Gold Coast United has the chance to leapfrog Melbourne into second position on the Hyundai A-League table but to do so will have to defeat nemesis side Newcastle in what should be a thrilling Wednesday night encounter.
Gold Coast certainly hasn't had the easy run against Newcastle it expected. When the teams first met in Round 4, United appeared to be living up to Clive Palmer's 'invincible' tag, having just won its first three matches, scoring 10 goals along the way.
The Jets, meanwhile, had just been flayed in Perth and had only won once. Even Branko Culina's grandson told the coach his side was going down to Jason Culina's Gold Coast, in what many expected to be one of the season's biggest floggings.
It hardly panned out that way, though, as Newcastle defied its wooden spoon status from 2008-09 to become the first team to beat Gold Coast, the 1-0 result coming from a Sean Rooney goal. Rooney would continue to haunt Gold Coast when the two sides met again in Round 18.
By then, Newcastle was starting to build some momentum after a difficult start to 2009-10, while United was struggling for consistency. The Jets may have opened the scoring in that match through Jobe Wheelhouse, but found themselves behind the eightball by half-time after a Shane Smeltz goal levelled proceedings and with marquee man Fabio Vignaroli out with a serious knee injury.
That the Jets rallied and went two ahead through goals by Rooney once again and Sasho Petrovski, in a game that finished 3-2, spoke volumes for the club's character and paved the way for more wins to follow.
Although they went down to Perth 4-0 on Boxing Day, the Jets have still won five of their last six matches. They also showed their character once again by defeating Melbourne 3-2 on Sunday afternoon, despite being reduced to 10 men. It was easily the finest moment of the season for Branko Culina, but the win may still have a big impact on the side as it heads to Skilled Park for the first time.
Culina has already said he's concerned his players will be feeling the physical effects of the game, particularly when they've only had three days' break between matches.
This was exacerbated by Newcastle playing with just 10 men after Ben Kantarovski's first-half dismissal. The suspended Kantarovski is the only player to be omitted from Newcastle's team so far, but Culina will need to omit one more and it appears likely to be Rooney.
The youngster has a suspected tear in his thigh and it would be surprising to see him line up for the Jets in an attempt to make it three goals from thee games played against Gold Coast.
Jobe Wheelhouse is also under an injury cloud, while Culina has brought Angelo Costanzo and Kaz Patafta into his side as cover.
Although the Jets appear to be building nicely for a finals campaign, Gold Coast continues to puzzle spectators, despite being third on the table.
While Miron Bleiberg's men have been brilliant at times this season, most recently in a 5-1 thrashing of Brisbane, they can put in some ordinary shifts as well, as seen by Saturday night's 1-1 draw with last-placed Adelaide.
Indeed Gold Coast was fortunate to come away with the draw as Adelaide dominated shots at goal.
But GCU still had Smeltz on hand to pull out another late equaliser. Gold Coast, though, has sometimes struggled to break down committed defences like Adelaide's and Sydney's, but it shouldn't find scoring so difficult against a Newcastle side that's still conceded 10 goals in the past five matches, despite winning four.
Smeltz will also be primed to add to his season tally of 19 goals, but United will have to be wary of Newcastle's forward pack as Mark Bridges is getting fitter by the day, while Labinot Haliti, Petrovski, Jin-Hyung Song and Matt Thompson all know where the goals are.
And, if the Jets do get up, it means an eight-point break between them and seventh position, meaning, of the sides outside the top six, Perth and Wellington will really feel the pinch.
Gold Coast squad: 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 3.Michael THWAITE, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14.Joel PORTER, 15.Tahj MINNIECON, 16.Kristian REES, 17.Matt OSMAN, 18.James BROWN, 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS, 24.ANDERSON, 34.Charlie MILLER, 36.Dino DJULBIC. *one to be omitted
In: Tahj MINNIECON (promoted), Matt OSMAN (promoted).
Out: Andrew BARISIC (thigh injury - 1 week).
Unavailable: Steve PANTELIDIS (suspended - 1 match), Adama TRAORE (ankle injury - 2 weeks), Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury - indefinite), ROBSON (knee injury - 3 weeks), JEFFERSON (knee injury - indefinite).
Newcastle Jets squad: 1.Ben KENNEDY (gk), 2.Angelo COSTANZO, 3.Adam D-APUZZO, 4.Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 5.Ljubo MILICEVIC, 7.Jin-Hyung SONG, 8.Matt THOMPSON (c), 9.Sasho PETROVSKI, 11.Tarek ELRICH, 12.Jobe WHEELHOUSE, 14.Michael BRIDGES, 15.Sean ROONEY, 20.Neil YOUNG (gk), 22.Kaz PATAFTA, 25.Labinot HALITI, 26.Ali ABBAS *one to be omitted
In: Angelo COSTANZO (promoted), Kaz PATAFTA (promoted)
Out: Ben KANTAROVSKI (suspended - 1 match)
Unavailable: Shaun ONTONG (Achilles - indefinite), Fabio VIGNAROLI (knee - indefinite), Marko JESIC (knee - indefinite)