Newcastle Jets may never get a better opportunity to break their drought against Wellington Phoenix.
Date: Sunday 27 January, 2013 Kick-off: 2.30pm AEDT, 4.30pm local Venue: Westpac Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 17 Wins: Wellington 12, Newcastle 4, Draws: 1
Previous encounter Newcastle 0, Wellington 3, 18 November 2012
Form: Past five matches: Wellington: LLLLW Newcastle: DWDLL
Newcastle Jets may never get a better opportunity to break their drought against Wellington Phoenix. With the Phoenix winless in four games and bottom of the A-League ladder after a 7-1 thumping by Sydney FC, sixth-placed Newcastle should head to Wellington with plenty of confidence they can knock off the New Zealand-based club.
The Jets have not won in Wellington since their first trip across the Tasman to play the Phoenix in 2007. Newcastle have lost the other eight games they have played in New Zealand's windy city, while Wellington have triumphed in six-straight matches against the Jets, no matter the venue.
Wellington have won just one match and lost five in the seven rounds since co-owner Gareth Morgan's infamous demand that Rickie Herbert's team move toward 'total football'. The mid-season directive to change the team's playing style has left Wellington's players confused and struggling on the pitch. Herbert labelled last week's 7-1 demolition at the hands of Sydney FC as 'totally unacceptable' and the 51-year-old head coach needs to do something drastic if he is to salvage the Phoenix's campaign.
Vince Lia will be unavailable for the home side on Sunday due to suspension but in a boost for the Phoenix, Paul Ifill could be ready for his first start in a month having returned from ankle surgery last week, coming off the bench against Sydney. The Jets are set to welcome captain Jobe Wheelhouse back to the starting line-up after the 27-year-old midfielder sat on the bench in Newcastle's past two games following a stint out with a knee injury. Wheelhouse will replace the suspended Ruben Zadkovich, while Taylor Regan will start instead of Josh Mitchell, who is also banned for the trip to Wellington.
The big issue
Wellington - Is this the beginning of the end for Ricki Herbert? While the decision by Wellington's owners to demand more attacking football midway through the season was poorly timed, Herbert's inability to implement the directive does not bode well for his future. Herbert has been in charge of the Phoenix since their first season in 2007/08 and while their run to the Preliminary Final two years later is remembered fondly, the fact is Wellington have not kicked on since then.
Newcastle - Newcastle head coach Gary van Egmond will be thrilled with his team's improved defensive solidity. Having gone 14 games without a clean sheet to start the season, the Jets have not conceded a goal in their past three matches. Now the question is, can Van Egmond's young side put together a complete performance? While Newcastle have tightened up at the back, it has come at a cost with just one goal in three games.
Ryan Griffiths. Newcastle have scored 20 goals this season and Griffiths (six goals, four assists) has played a role in half of them. The 31-year-old has been crucial to the Jets, generally playing behind marquee striker Emile Heskey, and his attacking nous could be the difference at Westpac Stadium.
Prediction: Jets 2-0 Phoenix. Van Egmond's insistence on playing youngsters looked to have derailed the Jets' season through November and December as Newcastle lost six of nine matches. But having stuck with the likes of Craig Goodwin, Connor Chapman and Josh Brillante, Van Egmond is now seeing his patience rewarded. Van Egmond selected the second-youngest starting line-up in A-League history in Jets' 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar two weeks ago and those youngsters look on track to lead Newcastle to the A-League finals.
A drought-breaking win away to Wellington would be a big step for Van Egmond's side and Newcastle's new-found defensive prowess should provide the foundation for the likes of Goodwin, Heskey and Griffiths to create havoc for the home side. Wellington have a goal difference of minus 13 during their four-game losing streak and seem to have no idea what they are supposed to be doing on the pitch at the moment.