Preview: Newcastle Jets v Gold Coast United

These two sides have been very evenly matched in the past - and this season, as well.

Date: Friday 9 March, 2012 Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT, 8.00pm local Venue: Hunter Stadium

Head-to-head Played: 9 Wins: Newcastle 4, Gold Coast 4, Draws: 1

Previous encounter Newcastle 3, Gold Coast 2, 4 January 2012

History: These two sides have been very evenly matched in the past - and this season, as well. In their two matches this term, Newcastle and Gold Coast have each taken a win apiece.

First up was United, at Skilled Park way back in week four of the competition - goals to Maceo Rigters, James Brown and Kristian Rees sealed their first win of the season. However, since then wooden-spooners elect Gold Coast have only won two games.

They went close to adding another in early January when they travelled to the Hunter, with Ben Halloran and Adama Traore leading a spirited comeback with one goal apiece to put the score at 2-2 in the second half. United were poised for a handy victory, until supersub Labinot Haliti pounced with about 10 minutes to go with the strike that gave the Jets all three points.

Form: Past five matches: Newcastle: WWLWW Gold Coast: LLDDL

Summary of form: The Jets are hitting the right form at the right time of the season. Sitting in sixth spot on the ladder, they're in the box seat for a finals appearance with Gary van Egmond's possession-based gameplan starting to pay dividends.

Newcastle have won five of their six most recent games - including a terrific 3-1 win at Melbourne Victory in their last start - and looking at their results it's easy to see why they're looking so good. Things are clicking up front.

The boys from the Hunter have been held scoreless on just one occasion since mid-January, and that was on the other side of the country in Perth, so there's no shame in that.

Gold Coast, on the other hand, are still struggling through the toughest season in their short history. They're nailed to the bottom of the ladder, but it's not as if they've ever been uncompetitive this season - on the contrary, they've been probably the most luckless side in the league.

Even through the controversy of the past few weeks they've been there or thereabouts. Following brave home draws with Victory and Central Coast, it took days of marathon meetings with FFA and the PFA to nut out a contractual arrangement for them to finish the season.

Once they reached an agreement, a weary United went to Wellington and while they lost 2-0, they were by no means embarrassed.

Match Committee: Aside from the suspended Ruben Zadkovich, the Jets have a full squad to pick from. Gold Coast caretaker boss Mike Mulvey has no such luxury - there are still a host of injured players who won't take part, including Glen Moss (adductor), Ben Halloran (hip), Joel Porter (calf), Tahj Minniecon (foot), Dylan Macallister (hamstring), Chris Broadfoot (ankle), Ante Rozic (hamstring), and James Brown (ankle).

Danger men: Jacob Pepper - It seems after his two-goal performance against Victory at the weekend, everyone has jumped on the Jacob Pepper bandwagon. Fair enough, too - the Jets' youth league captain looks a real prospect.

From midfield, he made two good late runs to the box against Melbourne and was rewarded with his first two senior goals. Having grown up playing alongside Ben Kantarovski for various state and club teams, the understanding is there - and now Newcastle have midfield combination that will be worth keeping an eye on.

Golgol Mebrahtu - His teammate Ben Halloran grabs all the headlines - and fair enough, because he's scoring goals. But you can't help but feel that Golgol is just one strikeaway from finding a similar vein of form.

He's already a handful for opposition defenders, with the pace and skill to unnerve even the most switched-on stoppers. If he can break his duck, there's every chance the goals will start flowing for Mebrahtu.

At the end of the day… To write Gold Coast United off would be silly. Many have done just that over the past few weeks and while they haven't shocked anyone with a win against the odds, there is clearly a fighting spirit within the young players at the club that is to be admired.

Guys like Mitch Cooper, Zac Anderson, Daniel Bowles and Josh Brillante could have all easily rolled over after the fortnight of turmoil that has engulfed their team. But they haven't. Now they're in the shop window, playing not only for themselves and their hopes for a contract somewhere, but they're playing for each other.

But will that be enough against Newcastle? Despite looking shaky at the start of the season, things are starting to happen for the Jets and they'll almost certainly play a part in the finals.

They, too, are regenerating their side with a group of talented youngsters - but they've got the stability at the moment and the experienced heads available to turn that potential into winning performances.

That's something Gold Coast have struggled to do - they haven't won since Boxing Day. They're also going to send out another starting XI stacked with teenagers. It's hard to see them breaking their drought in Newcastle.