Season preview: Newcastle Jets

After four straight seasons without finals football at Hunter Stadium fans have grown increasingly frustrated with their under-performing team.

The Jets have managed more than 10,000 members in each of their three previous Hyundai A-League seasons but this has dropped to less than 8,000 with just over a week until the new season kicks off.

But after appointing former Adelaide United assistant Phil Stubbins as head coach and with an overhaul of the playing roster, a return to the top six is a prerequisite to keep the Novocastrian faithful on side.

THE BURNING QUESTIONS

Can they replace Adam Taggart?

Despite the Jets’ underwhelming 2013/14 campaign, Taggart enjoyed a breakout season netting 16 goals to take out the Hyundai A-League’s golden boot.

The 21-year-old joined English Championship side Fulham following the Socceroos’ World Cup campaign leaving the Jets without their most dangerous attacking weapon.

In the front third they have recruited Jeronimo Neumann from Adelaide United and little-known Ecuadorian striker Edson Montano, but can they replicate Taggart’s output?

Or will Stubbins put his faith in veteran Joel Griffiths to find the net regularly?

Which Marcos Flores will we see?

Undoubtedly one of the most talented players to have graced the Hyundai A-League but Flores remains one of the great enigmas for fans and coaches alike.

The former Johnny Warren Medallist has failed to fire in recent seasons with Melbourne Victory and Central Mariners and is battling to return from a serious knee injury.

Can the Argentine playmaker return to the heights which made him a cult figure at Coopers Stadium?

LESSONS LEARNT FROM LAST SEASON

Big-money signing Emile Heskey spent much of last season injured and struggled to make an impact on his return, netting just one goal.

The Jets have opted to go without a marquee signing for 2014-15 and are hoping a more balanced outfit will reap the rewards this time around.

ROAD AHEAD

The resurfacing of the much-maligned Hunter Stadium turf means the Jets are forced to play their first four matches of the season on the road.

They open their campaign with the F3 derby against the Mariners before heading to Melbourne to take on David Villa’s Melbourne City. Long-haul trips to face bogey teams Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix round out a tough opening month for Newcastle.

And with no Westfield FFA Cup or ACL commitments this season they can focus on the domestic competition.

EXPECTED STRENGTHS

After being picked in the Socceroos 30-man World Cup squad, Jets keeper Mark Birighitti has returned from Brazil full of confidence and will be looking to take his game to the next level.

Skipper and former Dutch international Kew Jaliens provides stability and composure at the back and with former Socceroos David Carney and Adrian Madaschi alongside him, the Jets could prove difficult to unlock.

And with few hopes for the side, they won’t be burdened with the pressure of expectations.

POTENTIAL WEAKNESSES

A spate of off-season departures and injuries to Ben Kantarovski and Billy Celeski have left the Jets midfield stocks paper thin.

Utility Jacob Pepper and central defender Taylor Regan are likely to form a makeshift combination in the centre of the park in the early rounds, while playmaker Marcos Flores will take time to return to his best.

Off-season depature Zenon Caravella has been brought back to the club to provide midfield cover but is likely to miss the start of the season returning to full fitness.  

TACTICAL APPROACH

Stubbins is likely to opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation but by his own admission he is still yet to settle on a starting line-up.

Jeronimo is likely to start up top with Joel Griffiths and new recruit Jonny Steele to provide support up front. Either James Virgili or Andrew Hoole will start out wide in round one, with Marcos Flores likely to be eased in off the bench.

Jacob Pepper and Regan will anchor the midfield with Kew Jaliens, Adrian Madaschi, David Carney and Scott Neville making up the back four.

BREAKOUT STAR

22-year-old Jacob Pepper has been used primarily as a utility in the previous three seasons but has been unable to establish himself as a regular first-team player.

But with a dearth of midfield options at the Jets, Pepper will get first crack in his preferred position and will get plenty of opportunities to build on his undoubted potential. 

NIGHTMARE HEADLINE

“Jets miss finals for fifth straight year”

FAN’S SAY

DID YOU KNOW?

Jets skipper Kew Jaliens played for the Netherlands at the 2006 World Cup and managed to keep a clean sheet against an Argentine side featuring superstars Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez.  

PREDICTION

Adam Peacock (Fox Sports): 10th

John Kosmina (ex Socceroo): 10th

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