Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Vantastic job

Gary van Egmond; a chronology of a wonderful and thoughtful 14 weeks

NEWCASTLE's amazing 4-0 win last night over the minor premiers was yet another master-class in management from a bloke who's star is on the rise.

While Ernie Merrick will no doubt win the manager of the year award, and rightly so after almost being dumped last season, last night was yet another example of just how vital good management is to success.

In the short space of 14 games, Van the Man has highlighted how thoughtful and convincing a manager he is, pulling so many right moves in a run which has seen his team win eight matches and amass 27 points, more than any other team in that period.

Three weeks ago, after Sydney beat the Jets 2-0 in Newcastle on a terrible New Year's day pitch that didn't suit his team, I felt that Gary van Egmond had a real challenge on his had to rebound from that loss and get his team into the finals, particularly in light of the fact the Jets were back on the same sandy surface against local rivals the Mariners only four days later.

Rebound he did.

Van Egmond didn't make or look for excuses after the Sydney defeat. Instead he set about adapting the way his team plays, transforming them in only a couple of training sessions from a one-dimensional team that played everything through Stuart Musalik and Nick Carle into a multi-faceted unit that could also play the ball forward above the surface, getting players running through the wide channels.

As we now know, his players responded, getting a crucial 1-0 win. Afterwards he emphasised how proud he was that his men could adapt and grind out a result. It was not the Newcastle way, but it was a way to victory, character building stuff.

It demonstrated a manager who could find a quick solution to a pressing issue, think on his feet. Not every manager has reacted so rapidly. As we'd seen only a few weeks earlier, it took John Kosmina four weeks to work out how to best play through Romario.

Indeed, van Egmond's impressive work started as early as his first game in charge, instilling his men with the confidence and patience to keep knocking despite a plethora of missed chances and seven games without a win.

In that game he used a 3-4-3.

The next week, away to the Roar and faced with a backline missing Okon, he altered the formation. Realising that North had done a decent defensive job as a right stopper in a back three, he shifting him into central defence alongside Durante, brought in Eagleton on the right and shifted Thompson from midfield to left back, one of the moves of the season. In the same game he also moved Kohler from defence to central midfield, a position we had grown accustomed to seeing him in in the NSL. Here he formed a formidable partnership with Musalik, one a ball winner, one a ball user.

It allowed Carle to get closer to the front three and the 4-2-3-1 formation we still see today was set.

Suddenly the team had the shape and balance to match their cluey forward play with shrewdness in the back third.

With Musalik and Kohler providing the screen in front of the back four, Durante, Okon, North and Kennedy reducing the mistakes that characterised their early form, and Eagleton and Thompson adding thrust from the back, it allowed Carle and the front three (any mixture of Rodriguez, Bridge, Coveny and Grffiths) to buzz all over the place, get close to each other, get wide and cause all sorts of problems for the opposition.

Earlier in the season, Nick Theodorakopoulos had been guilty of being far too gun-ho and paid the price. Van Egmond, it seemed, was all about balance, such a vital ingredient to success, as we'd seen in last season's champions league.

Round 11 away to Sydney was also instructive. Battered early by a physical and successful Sydney approach, the Jets stuck to their convictions, knocking the ball around, trying to play. As the hosts struggled to relieve pressure by failing to string passes, the Jets equalised.

Not content with a four game undeafeated run and recognising that Rodriguez had struggled to make an impact the previous few weeks and was in need of a rest or some firing up, he brought Bridge into the starting line-up (for the first time under his management) in round 12. Talk about the midas touch. Bridge scored one and was very influential while Rodriguez came off the bench and scored.

Later, backing up from a tough road trip to New Zealand where they dropped two points and with another trip to Queensland only four days later, he rested his two elder statesmen, Coveny and Okon, freshing up the team with the addition of Bridge and Durante. It worked a treat, Bridge massive.

Even in round 17, when he had prophetically suggested Adelaide were due a win, he again pulled the right moves in a classic contest, starting Bridge into the Carle role and then shifting him out wide when Griffiths was injured. While the Jets lost, they'd won more admirers.

And again last night, more wonderful work from van Egmond. Recognising that some of fluency has gone out of his team's passing game the past few weeks and that Durante was a card away from a two-game suspension, he drafting Okon back into the starting 11. Two birds with the one stone.

Suddenly Newcastle's passing out of the back was back to the mid-season standards, when Okon's delivery, both short and long, was such a delight.

But it wasn't just the Jets' work on the ball that was so impressive. With the hard-working Tim Brown rewarded for a decent showing last week against Perth by being preferred to Kohler, the Jets had a game-plan to get deny space everywhere and Brown was crucial to it.

They suffocated Melbourne, never allowing them to build any momentum through the middle. When he came on board, van Egmond spoke of defending from the front, and here was perfect evidence, the Jets pressing Melbourne high, never allowing Vargas to build any passing momentum through Muscat and Brebner.

The lack of time on the ball forced a couple of defensive errors, one by Vargas, one by Lia. 2-0, Bridge so clinical and calm.

When Melbourne did get the ball forward, the space between the Jets defence and midfield was minimal and any time Allsopp, Archie or Fred got anywhere near the ball they were double or triple teamed, never allowed to turn and face goal.

Thompson's one chance came through a defensive slip-up, but otherwise Melbourne's best chances were at the set piece, the next thing for van Egmond to work on.

After planting a doubt in Melbourne's head seven rounds earlier, this was another crushing psychological blow. The Victory won't look forward to any finals meeting with the Jets with any great relish, and the work of the manager on the opposition bench will have had much to do with that fragile state.


Blogger john said...

Agree. I liked the look of newcastle from the minute that Milton ran on for the first time and hooked a draw from Sydney... It was only a matter of time..

I think they will win.

Shows Cn Constantine's experience that he can turn his crowd from 4,000 to 20,000.

Mon. Jan. 22, 10:24:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

John, thanks for comments.

re; 'I think they will win'

Certainly, and I think most people will agree, they have been playing the most eye-catching football of late, Melbourne included.

Whether that's enough, I'm not entirely sure.

Seems to me they have the mental edge over Melbourne, but I reckon the toughest gig is to get past Sydney, who have tended to upset the Jets through their more physical style.

The Jets and their new keeper have looked a bit shaky to me under the aerial ball (well placed crosses especially) and the likes of Zdrilic and Harnwell have troubled them this season.

Again on Friday Melbourne created a couple of good openings from set-pieces and had their finishing been better, they might have made the Jets pay.

If Newc harbour any title aspirations, and no doubt they do, I reckon they've gotta defend better from set-pieces and crosses.

re; 'Shows Cn Constantine's experience that he can turn his crowd from 4,000 to 20,000.'

Not sure it's entirely been Constantine's doing, but I'm sure he's played at least some part. Obviously hiring van Egmond was the key, but the results have followed, the football has been great and the team is playing with heart.

The sport/football loving community has responded.

Certainly he copped a bit of criticism when he changed managers and I was among those calling the back office a bit 'gun-ho', but you'd have to say he's been vindicated by his decision.

Tue. Jan. 23, 04:33:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous colin said...

just shows how 'good' nick theo was! dont forget this team made the semis last year as well. personally think that adelaide will win the comp this year.

Tue. Jan. 23, 05:49:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

Returned to work yesterday. Got through all your articles. Today I start actual work.

Wed. Jan. 24, 11:21:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

colin, thanks for the comment and interest.

Adelaide clearly have the hunger from having bowed out in straight sets last season, and now they're carrying a bit of momentum, so anything is possible.

Seems to me they've stiffened things up at the back since Chrissy, only 2 goals in four, so thats a very good sign.

And there's a bit of freshness in attack through the likes of Petta, Djite, Burns, Diego and Spagnuolo if he's back.

So who knows, anything is possible.

Pinuts, sorry to waste your first day back at work :-)

Wed. Jan. 24, 05:12:00 pm AEDT  

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