Preview: Newcastle Jets v Central Coast

Can Newcastle's brittle defence stand up against a Mariners side who have been in the mood to score goals all season long?

Date: Saturday December 8 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle

Head-to-head Played: 27 Wins: Newcastle 9, Central Coast 9 Draws: 9

Previous encounter Central Coast 1, Newcastle 2, October 20, 2012

Form: Past five matches: Newcastle: LDLWL Central Coast: WWDWW

The Game Newcastle Jets will head into Saturday's F3 Derby without captain Jobe Wheelhouse after he sprained his medial collateral ligament on Tuesday.

With Ben Kantarovski out of action following knee surgery and central defender Tiago Calvano also on the treatment table, plus Josh Mitchell and Ryan Griffiths suspended, Jets head coach Gary van Egmond will be forced into a number of changes for the visit of Central Coast Mariners.

Van Egmond has hinted that Taylor Regan will partner Connor Chapman in the centre of Newcastle's back four, while Craig Goodwin will most likely replace Griffiths on the left wing.

In the middle of the park, Wheelhouse's injury may give Chris Grossman an opportunity to play after the former North Queensland Fury player was signed on a short-term contract to cover for Kantarovski.

Newcastle's injury and suspension woes could not come at a worse time as local rivals Central Coast are on a six-game unbeaten run and moved to the top of the A-League ladder last week after a 2-1 win over Adelaide United in a top-of-the-table clash.

While Central Coast head coach Graham Arnold will still be without Tom Rogic and Mat Ryan due to international duty, the Mariners should be confident of overturning their home loss to the Jets in Round 3.

The big issue Newcastle - After a cracking start to the A-League season, Van Egmond's men have won only once in their past five matches. Marquee striker Emile Heskey has scored five goals this season but in the Jets' poor period only hit the back of the net in that 2-1 triumph away to Western Sydney in Round 6. Can Newcastle find a way to help the 34-year-old back into form and simultaneously turn the club's season around?

Central Coast - Dutch defender Patrick Zwaanswijk has been central, both figuratively and literally, to the Mariners' defensive structure in his three seasons with the club. The 37-year-old has played just about every game for Central Coast since he joined them in 2010 but has missed the past two.

Zwaanswijk was suspended against Brisbane Roar a fortnight ago and was kept out by the impressive performance from Trent Sainsbury and Zac Anderson in the win over Adelaide. Will Arnold be tempted to bring back the big Dutchman for the pressure of the F3 Derby?

Gamebreaker Pedj Bojic - With Rogic away with the Socceroos, Central Coast need other creative options against the Jets. Both the Mariners' goals versus Adelaide came from loose-ball situations but the week before Bojic was the main man. The right full-back crossed to Bernie Ibini for the opener against Brisbane and then won the free-kick that led to Rogic's winner. Arnold should back both Bojic and left-back Josh Rose, who scored against Adelaide, to get forward against Newcastle.

Prediction: Central Coast 3-1 Newcastle The Jets have the second-worst defensive record in the A-League (17 goals conceded in nine games) and will have a new back-four combination against Central Coast. The Mariners have scored the most goals in the league this season and should be able to find a way through the home team's defence on Saturday.

While Newcastle will be hopeful of a positive result as they are the only side to defeat Central Coast this season, the visitors should have too much quality at Hunter Stadium. Expect the Mariners to lead the F3 Derby head-to-head statistics on Sunday morning.