Friday, February 10, 2006

Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners Preview, minor semi final

When Newcastle Jest host the Central Coast Mariners in the first leg of the minor semi final tonight, expect it to be fiery and physical.

Jets manager Richard Money has gone on the record this week claiming that Australian football will experience its first “real derby” tonight.

Clearly he is trying to fire up his men after a number of insipid displays at home in the past month or so, which include conceding eight goals in the past two games.

But if you look beyond the recent poor form of Newcastle, there is clearly some history between the two clubs, at least dating back to the pre-season World Club Championships first round clash at Gosford, which was won by the home team, but featured one of the talking points of the pre-season, a reckless tackle from Mariners striker Nick Mrdja on Newcastle defender Andrew Durante which broke Durante’s leg and has keep him on the sidelines for the duration of the season.

It is somewhat ironic that Mrdja has been confined to the sidelines for the entire season after coming down with a knee injury.

The Mariners manager Lawrie McKinna has also weighed into the derby debate, emphasising the importance of traveling supporters to create a real derby atmosphere, at the same time reminding Newcastle fans that the Marinators sent a large contingent of supporters north earlier in the year and that its wasn’t replicated by those venturing south.

Beyond the fire and building rivalry between the two clubs, there is little doubt that the Mariners can be more satisfied with its season to date. While only a point separated them at the end of the regular season, it terms of football played and consistency over the season, the Mariners have been well ahead, looking the more fluid unit.

While the Jets had an excellent mid-season spell away from home, when their ground was being renovated, their form in the final third of the season has been patchy, their two wins coming against the bottom two, Melbourne and New Zealand.

Whether it is tiredness or a lack of fitness to some crucial players, Money will be a magician if he can halt the downward momentum. In terms of team structure, there is no doubt that Newcastle has been defending deep. Perhaps this is a sign that they are not entirely confident with their speed at the back and ability to cover.

Certainly and understandably, Ned Zelic, at 34, has lost some pace and relies as much on his speed of mind these days, while in Allan Picken they have another tall and physical defender, but not one who necessarily quick on his feet. His strong point is in the air. It is this area that the Jets have missed Durante, a natural sweeper.

By defending deep, there is then a massive area for the midfield to cover, meaning that Newcastle are often stretched covering the space between their strikers and defenders. It means that the likes of Nick Carle and Matt Thompson, attacking midfielders, spend as much time tracking back, limiting the influence they’ve been having in attack.

Money has to somehow find a way of getting Carle closer to his front two of Vaughan Coveny and Ante Milicic so he can influence the attack. Too often the front two have been isolated, with Carle less effective on the left as the season has gone on. The Jets would be served well by shifting Carle more central, in front of Richard Johnston and behind the front two.

While this might bring him closer to the likes of Andre Gumprecht and Noel Spencer, it should also allow him to get on the ball in areas he can hurt the Mariners defence.

Certainly Money will be hoping his big name players in Milicic, Carle, Johnson and Zelic all lift. There is evidence they have done this against the other three finalists.

A win a piece and a draw in its three games against the Mariners, two draws and a win against Sydney and one win and two losses to Adelaide shows this bunch of players should never be underestimated, but over two legs, the smart money would be on the Mariners getting through.


Anonymous Pierre said...

Spot on! I agree with your sentiments exactly. Carle was very effective in the first half of the season , when the team played a more natural game. As the semis loomed and the 'result' was all important, the team played a 'don't lose' game, which has stifled their creative players.

Mon. Feb. 13, 09:27:00 am AEDT  

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