Preview: Newcastle Jets v Sydney FC

This is a vital clash for both sides in the run to the finals with a win likely to see them finish the round in the top six while a defeat will see them fall down the table.

Date: Saturday, February 2, 2013 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle

Head-to-head: Played 25: Wins: Newcastle 6, Sydney 13, Draws: 6

Previous encounter: Newcastle 2-1 Sydney FC, December 2, 2012

Form: Past five matches: Jets: LDWDD Sydney FC: LDWWL

The Game: This is a vital clash for both sides in the run to the finals with a win likely to see them finish the round in the top six while a defeat will see them fall down the table. It's good for both teams then that they come into this match in reasonable form.

The Jets are unbeaten in four matches, with last weekend's draw away to Wellington seeing them move up to fifth position. The Sky Blues were convincingly beaten by Melbourne Victory 3-1 on Australia Day but it was their first defeat in four games and they remain just one point outside the top six.

Jets coach Gary van Egmond will be forced into at least one change with left-back Sam Gallaway suspended for his red card against the Phoenix. Skipper Ruben Zadkovich is available again after serving a one-game ban. There's a few more problems at Sydney FC with coach Frank Farina needing to make at least three changes to his starting side.

Defenders Tiago Calvano and Fabio (both suspended) will miss the trip up the F3 while veteran midfielder Brett Emerton (back/hamstring) is out through injury. Adam Griffiths and Trent McClenahan are the two players expected to come into the Sky Blues' backline while Blake Powell or Terry Antonis will battle it out for Emerton's spot. Panamanian flyer Yairo Yau is unavailable due to international duty. The Jets have won both previous encounters this season, including a 2-1 victory at Hunter Stadium in December.

The big issue: Jets - Van Egmond has put faith in many of his youngsters in recent weeks and the club has moved up to fifth on the back of a four-game unbeaten run. But as can often be the case with youthful players, getting the best out of them week in, week out over a long period is sometimes tricky to do. The likes of Craig Goodwin, James Virgili, Connor Chapman and Josh Brillante are making strong contributions and if they can maintain that level then the Jets will continue to thrive.

Sydney - With every result so crucial from now until the end of the season, the Sky Blues can ill-afford to find themselves playing without a full complement of players again. Their ill-discipline cost them dearly against Melbourne Victory last weekend and Farina should have been stressing the importance of keeping their emotions in check against the Jets. Sydney have had problems winning matches with 11 players this season so playing with 10 or even nine again would be a disaster.

The game breaker: Joel Griffiths - He was once an adored hero in the Hunter but Joel Griffiths now looms as a serious threat to the Jets' finals push when he returns to face his former club with Sydney FC. The 33-year-old has made an immediate impact since joining the Sky Blues, scoring twice in his first two games for the club. Griffiths' movement and clinical finishing has been what Sydney's been missing most of the season and with his combination with Alessandro Del Piero sure to get better and better every week, the Jets defence will need to be on guard if they are to keep their former star quiet.

Prediction: Jets 2-2 Sydney The Jets deserves to start slight favourites having tightened up their defence in recent weeks, conceding just once in their last four games. But with Joel Griffiths in good form and Del Piero always dangerous the home side's back four is sure to be tested in this one. The Sky Blues have a strong record on the Hunter, having lost just three times at the venue in 12 matches. With so much at stake for both sides, it's sure to be a tight and tense affair.