Preview: Newcastle Jets v Gold Coast
Newcastle appears to be stepping up a gear and building momentum for a run to the finals. But two wins don't make a summer and the Jets will need to overcome the sometimes brilliant but inconsistent Gold Coast to be viewed in any way as a legitimate threat.
Date: Sunday December 13 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEDT, 4:00pm AEST Venue: EnergyAustralia Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and Sky Sports 1. To purchase tickets visit www.proticket.com.au.
Head-to-head Played 1: Wins: Gold Coast 0, Newcastle 1
Previous meeting Newcastle 1, Gold Coast United 0, EnergyAustralia Stadium, Round 4, August 2009
Past five matches: Newcastle: Round 10: Wellington Phoenix 3, Newcastle Jets 0, Westpac Stadium Round 14: Newcastle Jets 2, North Queensland 0, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 15: Newcastle Jets 0, Wellington Phoenix 1, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 16: Newcastle Jets 3, Sydney FC 0, Sydney Football Stadium Round 17: Adelaide United 0, Newcastle Jets 2, Hindmarsh Stadium
Gold Coast United: Round 13: Gold Coast United 0, North Queensland Fury 2, Skilled Park Round 14: Gold Coast United 1, Sydney FC 0, Skilled Park Round 15: Adelaide United 1, Gold Coast United 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 16: Melbourne Victory 4, Gold Coast United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 17: Gold Coast United 2, Central Coast 1, Skilled Park
Analysis: Newcastle appears to be stepping up a gear and building momentum for a run to the finals. But two wins don't make a summer and the Jets will need to overcome the sometimes brilliant but inconsistent Gold Coast to be viewed in any way as a legitimate threat.
It seems a lifetime ago, but it's only been two years since the Jets lifted their rating at about this time in 2007, taking all before them as they swept to the premiership. But a last-placed finish the following year and a run of poor results this season has seen Newcastle stake a claim at the ladder's lower rungs. Indeed, the club's loss in Wellington just a few weeks ago was close to the most inept performance seen this year. But coach Branko Culina has turned things around from that disappointing night and since then, Newcastle has won three of its next four games, while earning a creditable 1-0 loss to the Phoenix in 40-degree conditions.
Much of the success over the past month has come down to a three-pronged attacking threat consisting of Michael Bridges, Labinot Haliti and Sean Rooney, ably assisted by Italian veteran Fabio Vignaroli from midfield. Matt Thompson appears more of a threat too and it seems the departing skipper, freed from worrying about his future, can now concentrate solely on football. As a result, Thompson has scored in both the last two matches in 3-0 and 2-1 wins over Sydney and Adelaide respectively, the first time the club's enjoyed consecutive victories since the premiership year.
Thompson will need to be at his best though to cover for Bridges' absence after the Englishman strained his hamstring. At this stage, Bridges is the only omission from last week's squad as Culina brings in goalkeeper Ben Kennedy after an ankle injury and promoted duo Ang Costanzo and Donny de Groot.
As per usual with Gold Coast, events off the pitch have overshadowed what was a fantastic win over the Mariners. Not many teams come from behind against Central Coast, but United found a way through Shane Smeltz and youngster Andrew Barisic in a defining 2-1 result. It was the perfect response to the previous week's 4-0 thrashing by Melbourne, and it showed the new boys had the character to do it tough.
But, of course, many will forget the result and just remember this as the game where ex-Roar man Charlie Miller dined with GCU owner Clive Palmer as the Scotsman looked for opportunities elsewhere. Indeed, there's been a hint of Mills & Boon at Skilled Park throughout this entire week, as Miron Bleiberg declared the club would find a way to recruit Miller if the coach 'fell in love with him'.
While Bleiberg may have been distracted, he's still found time to select his side with Miller set to gain a start this weekend after signing with Gold Coast and Steven Lustica and Golgol Mebrahtu added to an extended squad at the expense of James Brown. For United, following up last week's win is crucial to build any momentum after an inconsistent seven-week period that's seen it cop thrashings from Wellington and Melbourne.
But after this week's trip south, United enjoys consecutive home matches against Perth and Brisbane and a possible four wins in a row would go a long way towards securing the club's maiden finals appearance and setting up a big finish. Newcastle is in a similar position. Even when in last place just a few weeks ago, Culina maintained the league's evenness and his squad's talent still made the Jets a finals contender. If they take out Gold Coast and make it four wins from five, more than a few people will heed his words.
Newcastle squad: 1. Ben KENNEDY (gk), 2. Angelo COSTANZO, 3. Adam D-APUZZO, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 5. Ljubo MILICEVIC, 6. Ben KANTAROVSKI, 7. Jin-Hyung SONG, 8. Matt THOMPSON (c), 9. Sasho PETROVSKI, 10. Donny DE GROOT, 11. Tarek ELRICH, 12. Jobe WHEELHOUSE, 15. Sean ROONEY, 17. Fabio VIGNAROLI, 20. Neil YOUNG (gk), 22. Kaz PATAFTA, 25. Labinot HALITI
*two to be omitted*
In: Ben KENNEDY (returns from injury), Angelo COSTANZO (promoted), Donny DE GROOT (promoted)
Out: Michael BRIDGES (hamstring 2-3 weeks)
Unavailable: Shaun ONTONG (Achilles - indefinite), Marko JESIC (knee - indefinite)
Gold Coast United squad: 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 2.Steve PANTELIDIS, 3.Michael THWAITE, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 15.Tahj MINNIECON, 16.Kristian REES, 17.Matt OSMAN, 19.Andrew BARISIC, 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS, 24.ANDERSON, 25.Steven LUSTICA, 26.Golgol MEBRAHTU
*one to be omitted*
In: Steven LUSTICA (promoted), Golgol MEBRAHTU (promoted).
Out: James BROWN (not selected)
Unavailable: Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury - indefinite), ROBSON (knee injury - 4 weeks), JEFFERSON (knee injury - indefinite)