Preview: Wellington Phoenix v Newcastle Jets

A miracle of mathematics aside, it would appear Newcastle's championship defence is over, with the Jets now cast adrift on the bottom of the table, some four points shy of their nearest rival, Perth.

Date: Sunday January 4 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEDT, 7:00pm NZDT Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington TV and Radio: Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 1 and Sky Sport 1. Hyundai A-League club radio broadcast partner is Radio Network (Wellington) 1035AM and 1233 ABC Newcastle. To purchase tickets visit www.premier.ticketek.co.nz

Head-to-head 5 Hyundai A-League meetings: Wins: Wellington 2, Newcastle 2, Draws - 1

Previous meeting Wellington Phoenix 2, Newcastle Jets 0, Westpac Stadium, Round 12, November 2008

Past Five Games Wellington Phoenix: Round 13: Wellington Phoenix 2, Melbourne Victory 1, Westpac Stadium Round 14: Adelaide United 6, Wellington Phoenix 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 15: Wellington Phoenix 1, Perth Glory 1, Westpac Stadium Round 16: Wellington Phoenix 1, Central Coast Mariners 0, Westpac Stadium Round 17: Queensland Roar 3, Wellington Phoenix 2, Suncorp Stadium

Newcastle Jets: Round 13: Newcastle Jets 1, Adelaide United 1, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 14: Newcastle Jets 1, Sydney FC 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 15: Queensland Roar 2, Newcastle Jets 1, Suncorp Stadium Round 16: Newcastle Jets 4, Melbourne Victory 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 17: Newcastle Jets 1, Central Coast Mariners 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium

Analysis A miracle of mathematics aside, it would appear Newcastle's championship defence is over, with the Jets now cast adrift on the bottom of the table, some four points shy of their nearest rival, Perth.

It's been a season of little cheer for Gary van Egmond, who pulled off the miracle last season with a brilliant success for his under-rated side. From the moment other clubs started circling for his stars, van Egmond must have known that 2008/09 was going to be much tougher.

The hope created by the 4-2 win over Melbourne a fortnight ago disappeared quickly as Central Coast took all three points from its trip to Newcastle in a fiery Boxing Day clash. That success over Melbourne, highlighted by a hat-trick from Matt Thompson, now looks like the exception in a miserable run which has yielded just one win, and five points in total, in nine matches.

It was only seven weeks ago that Van Egmond last took his team across the Tasman where they were on the end of a 2-0 defeat from the Phoenix thanks to late goals from Troy Hearfield and Shane Smeltz.

For this match he has brought in youngsters Kaz Patafta, Shaun Ontong and Antun Kovacic while Jade North is off to Korea and Marko Jesic is out with a knee injury.

Wellington is still well and truly in the hunt for the top four and is just three points off fourth-placed Central Coast coming into this game. The second half of the season has proven quite productive for Ricki Herbert's men, but the late goal from Roar youngster Tommy Oar in last week's 3-2 loss in Brisbane could prove important at the end of the season.

Prior to that, Wellington had won four of six and looked a serious challenger, with the exception of the 6-1 defeat by Adelaide in early December. Herbert has always maintained that a strong home record was very important to Phoenix's hopes this season and having won three and drawn one of the past four at home, the coach is getting the response he needs from his players.

This and the following clash in Sydney are matches the Phoenix must win if they are to put pressure on the top four ahead of the final two matches of the season against Adelaide and Melbourne.

Unfortunately, Herbert will be without two of his most important players in Andrew Durante, the Jets' Joe Marston Medallist from last season, and Jon McKain, who are both suspended. He has brought Richard Johnson, Ben Sigmund and Costa Barbarouses into his extended squad for this match.

Wellington Phoenix: 1.Mark PASTON (gk), 2.Jeremy CHRISTIE, 3.Tony LOCHHEAD, 5.Karl DODD, 6.Tim BROWN, 7.Leo BERTOS, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Michael FERRANTE, 11.DANIEL, 12.Richard JOHNSON, 13.Troy HEARFIELD, 15.Adam KWASNIK, 18.Ben SIGMUND, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 23.Costa BARBAROUSES, 25.Manny MUSCAT. *one to be omitted

In: 12.Richard JOHNSON (promoted), 18.Ben SIGMUND (return from injury), 23.Costa BARBAROUSES (promoted).

Out: 4.Jon McKAIN (suspended - 1 week), 22.Andrew DURANTE (suspended - 1 week).

Others Unavailable: Vince Lia (knee - season)

Newcastle Jets Squad: 1.Ante COVIC, 2.Adam GRIFFITHS, 5.James HOLLAND, 7.Kaz PATAFTA, 8.Matt THOMPSON, 9.Joel GRIFFITHS, 10.Jin-Hyung SONG, 11.Tarek ELRICH, 12.Jobe WHEELHOUSE, 13.Adam D'APUZZO, 14.Shaun ONTONG, 16.Ben KANTAROVSKI, 17.Antun KOVACIC, 26.Mark MILLIGAN, 29.Sean ROONEY, 30.Justin PASFIELD *one to be omitted

In: 7.Kaz Patafta, 14.Shaun Ontong, 17.Antun Kovacic

Out: 3.Jade North, 24.Marko Jesic (knee).

Others Unavailable: 15.Jason Hoffman (knee - season),18.Noel Spencer (ankle - indefinite), 20.Ben Kennedy (ankle - season), 19.Jason Naidovski (knee - season).