With both sides still in a hunt for a finals position, this game will have massive ramifications on the eventual make-up of the top six.
Date: Friday 24 February, 2012 Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT, 8.00pm local Venue: Hunter Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 21 Wins: Newcastle 6, Adelaide 8, Draws: 7
Previous encounter Adelaide 1, Newcastle 1, 25 January 2012
History: Historically speaking this is one of the tightest match-ups in the Hyundai A-League. After 21 matches the ledger is almost dead even, and it's been that way this season as well. Both times Adelaide and Newcastle have done battle this term there was nothing between them. First up was a nil-nil draw in November last year, followed by a 1-1 draw last time they met in late January in Bathurst. The Reds were dominant and went ahead in the second half thanks to Sergio van Dijk, who was then on a hot streak. But in the 73rd minute, Jobe Wheelhouse pounced with a professional side-footed finish from a Ruben Zadkovich ball.
Form: Past five matches: Newcastle: DWWWL Adelaide: LLWWL
Summary of form: Gary van Egmond's Jets outfit have been in pretty good nick over the last five games. The highlight was their three-match winning streak, which included a handy 1-0 away win to the Roar, a 5-2 rout of Sydney FC at the SFS and a 3-0 dismantling at home to the Melbourne Heat. Last weekend, Newcastle hit the wall and fell by two goals to a Perth Glory side now widely tipped to make a big impact at the pointy end of the season. The men in purple were on top in that match with goals from Adam Hughes and Billy Mehmet, but van Egmond will still feel confident they have plenty to say for the remainder of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Adelaide's busy schedule has taken its toll with a fairly inconsistent output of results. Following a breakthrough 2-1 triumph on the Gold Coast, the Reds were faced with an AFC Champions League qualifier hastily organized in the midst of political intrigue. To their credit, they met the challenge of Persipura and delivered a convincing 3-0 win, but had to back up just a couple of days later to face the Sky Blues. In that match, it was the pace and energy of Sydney duo Joel Chianese and Mitch Mallia that put a tired Adelaide outfit to the sword.
Match Committee: The Jets are hoping Ben Kantarovski will be able to play in this match. He is scheduled to return from Australian U23s duty on Friday morning, but given the long-haul flight he'll be arriving on there's every chance he'll be knackered. The club has included him in their 18-man squad but will make a decision on his fitness closer to the game. Adelaide, then, might also be counting on national team pair Antony Golec and Daniel Mullen to take part.
Other additions to the Newcastle squad are striker Labinot Haliti and young gun James Virgili, but captain Jobe Wheelhouse (groin) is unavailable. For the Reds, Paul Izzo (back), Spase Dilevski (groin) and Jon McKain (knee) are under injury clouds.
Danger men: Jeremy Brockie - If scoring is infectious, then Brockie is a very, very sick man. With nine goals and four assists, the Kiwi is the leading goalscorer at the club and is in red-hot form. It's decent timing, too, as his pursuit for a contract next season hots up. If he continues the way he's going at the moment Newcastle would be foolish not to hang onto him.
Sergio van Dijk - The Dutchman has spent most of this season paired with Bruce Djite up front, but coach John Kosmina has grown frustrated with their combination and opted for van Dijk to start by himself against Sydney FC at the weekend. There's no doubt the marquee man has the pedigree, strength and skill to succeed as a lone striker, but a lot will depend on the kind of service he gets.
At the end of the day… With both sides still in a hunt for a finals position, this game will be massive. Adelaide and Newcastle come into this match with similar form behind them. The Reds put together a couple of wins but looked lethargic against Sydney FC. The Jets, too, were on a nice little run of victories - until they faced a Perth Glory side that now demands to be taken seriously. Those were crunch matches, and both clubs failed - so they can't complain about their positions on the table. There are better sides ahead of them. But in the A-League, it only takes two or three consecutive wins and you'll find yourself bouncing up the table at speed. That's why this game is so important - momentum is huge at this point of the season and with five games to go, this is probably their last chance to gather some pace ahead of the finals. Win, and the likelihood of taking part in the knock-out phase of the league increases. Lose, and the odds are stacked against you. It's anyone's game but we're backing Newcastle, simply because their struggles look easier to overcome than those of Adelaide.