With both the Mariners and the Jets making inauspicious starts to the new season, the latest edition of the usually-explosive F3 derby looms as the perfect chance for one side to jolt themselves back into form.
Date: Sunday, October 23 Kick-off: 5.00pm AEDT, 5.00pm local Venue: Ausgrid Stadium
Head-to-head Played 23: Wins: Newcastle 7, Central Coast 8, Draws: 8
Previous encounter Central Coast 1, Newcastle 0, 13 February 2011
History: Mariners fans have been quick to point out to their enemies down the road this week that the Jets have not won an F3 derby since their 2-1triumph at home on 23 October 2009 - that'll be 726 days come Sunday. Since then, Central Coast's grip on local bragging rights has barely loosened. In the last four meetings between the two sides, the Mariners have won three and conceded just one goal - an injury-time equaliser to Sasho Petrovski in round 16 last season.
Form: Past five matches: Newcastle: WL Central Coast: LD
Both sides are yet to hit their best form, two matches into the new season. The Jets were fortunate to beat Melbourne Heart in the opening round, given how vulnerable they looked at the back - but then crumbled in a 2-0 loss to Wellington across the ditch last week. Central Coast have also looked a touch off the pace - particularly in round one, when they were comprehensively outplayed by Brisbane in the grand final rematch. In fact, if it wasn't for stand-in skipper Patrick Zwaanswijk's late equaliser against Gold Coast last weekend, they'd have no points to show for their opening fortnight.
Match Committee: The Mariners will again be without three of their best for this most important of matches - Stuart Musialik (adductor), Mustafa Amini (groin) and Alex Wilkinson (broken arm) have all been ruled out, meaning Graham Arnold is highly likely to go with the same squad that stole a point at the death from Gold Coast United last week. Newcastle have confirmed that the fox in the box himself, Francis Jeffers, will touch down on Friday for a return stint in the Hunter but he will not be considered for selection this week.
Ryan Griffiths - At the forefront of Newcastle's mini-revival after the controversy and uncertainty of Culinagate has been 30-year-old attacker Griffiths. At the start of the season, the veteran flyer declared his intentions to break back into the national team set-up. Two matches in, and he's clearly on the right track having earned an invitation from Holger Osieck to join next week's Qantas Socceroos training camp in Sydney. Largely the architect of his side's round one win over the Heart with two fine goals, he will need to be a central figure once again on Sunday if the Jets are to have any chance against the Mariners.
Bernie Ibini - He might have only a handful of games under his belt but this Nigerian-born 19-year-old is the type of player the Mariners need at the moment. As he showed in his substitute appearance in last season's amazing grand final and against last week against Gold Coast, Ibini's sheer presence alone can change a game. He makes things happen by simply worrying other teams into paying him attention, and in turn that makes valuable space for those around him. The F3 derby is the best possible opportunity for this dynamic young star of the future to start living up to his Mario Ballotelli-inspired haircut and show what he can do on derby day.
At the end of the day…
With both the Mariners and the Jets making inauspicious starts to the new season, the latest edition of the usually-explosive F3 derby looms as the perfect chance for one side to jolt themselves back into form. Recent history would suggest that Central Coast are likely candidates to do just that, but a spanner has just been thrown in the works with the announcement of Gary van Egmond as Branko Culina's successor just days out from the match.
Sides who have just had their coach sacked or had a new one appointed have been known to put in above-par performances, in most sports. The Jets need one - in both their games so far, their defence has looked suspect. Towering stopper Nikolai Topor-Stanley and highly-rated Brazilian recruit Tiago Calvano have not yet clicked together as a centre-back pairing, and without a strong foundation in that position the rest of the side tends to play with precaution in the back of their mind.
The Mariners have their own problems. WIth Mustafa Amini and Alex Wilkinson still sidelined, they are lacking that killer touch in the final third and that assuredness at the back. Their great strength is usually their structure and cohesion, but even that fell to the wayside last week against Gold Coast United. With so many unanswered questions regarding both clubs, it's extremely difficult to pick which way Sunday's match will go - but given the new coach factor and home ground advantage, we'll back Newcastle for this one.
Newcastle Jets squad: 1. Ben Kennedy (gk), 2. Taylor Regan, 4. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 5. Tiago Calvano, 6. Ben Kantarovski, 7. Kasey Wehrman, 8. Jeremy Brockie, 10. Ruben Zadkovich, 11. Tarek Elrich, 12. Jobe Wheelhouse (c), 13. Sung-Hwan Byun, 14. Labinot Haliti, 17. James Virgili, 19. Matthew Nash, 22. Ali Abbas, 23. Ryan Griffiths
In: 2. Taylor Regan (promoted) Out: Nil Unavailable: Francis Jeffers (awaiting clearance)
Central Coast Mariners Squad: 1. Mathew RYAN, 2. Daniel MCBREEN, 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Brad PORTER, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWJIK (c), 8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 9. Bernie IBINI, 10. Adriano PELLEGRINO, 11. Oliver BOZANIC, 12. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Michael MCGLINCHEY, 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 19. Matthew SIMON, 20. Justin PASFIELD, 21. Sam GALLAGHER, 23. Adam KWASNIK *Four to be omitted*
In: 15. Brad MCDONALD, 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 17. Michael BAIRD, 21. Sam GALLAGHER, Out: Nil Unavailable: 7. John HUTCHINSON (On Loan), 13. Stuart MUSIALIK (Adductor - 2 weeks), 18. Alex WILKINSON (Forearm - 1 week), 22. Mustafa AMINI (Groin - 3 weeks)