What’s worse than watching a repeat of a painful memory? Those who answered re-marrying, take a consolation point, you are slightly off track, it’s watching the second edition with a slightly sunburnt face, and a more than slightly chafed inner-thigh/posterior region (Derby Day challenges), in the opposition’s home city.
It’s watching in silence as you wolf down your “parmy” while the Jets play the first half with verve and dash, Ronny Vargas leading the charge, but go to the half-time break level at 0-0 with Melbourne Victory.
The second half is spent in the casino sports bar, in the company of some loud, well-lubricated Victory fans. You sense the tide will turn at some stage, and Andy Harper’s voice, right on cue, reminds us that the Victory had managed the grand final onslaught quite brilliantly six months ago, and seemed increasingly likely to do so again.
And so it was. The extensive pressure the Jets applied on their opponents, for no scoreboard reward, gradually starts to take a toll, and Victory’s ball players become more influential, higher up the pitch.
Central to this is Melbourne’s Japanese marquee signing, who performs with efficiency and economy, subtle touches that suggest European design and refinement, and marry well with the discipline and reliability Australian conditions require. Still, you’d expect nothing less from a top-class Honda, and Keisuke is certainly that! (Well someone had to go down that road didn’t they?)
Danger signs increase, anxiety levels are heading north rapidly, and the alarm bells ringing when Kosta Barbarouses scores, but is ruled narrowly offside.
It’s not like the game has flipped on its head, but the southerners’ probings have increased from spot dripping, to a steady flow, and Terry Antonis penetrates Newcastle’s defensive resistance, with a shot from the edge of the 18-yard box.
The sense of déjà vu is almost palpable, and though the Jets try hard, you never really believe they will find the cutting edge to snatch a point. What would have been a deserved point, may I add.
However, the fact is the Jets sit bottom of the ladder, with one point after three games, and face a tricky run of Sydney at home, and the Wanderers and Melbourne City away in the next three fixtures.
Given the general performances to date, Ernie Merrick‘s team might well have acquired three, four, even six points. They will need to cobble together that sort of total from this testing little run to stay in contact with the leaders .
The lightning-fast start of last season was never likely to be repeated, given the injuries and suspensions, and opposition teams being more prepared for what they might face, so the Jets will need to show some maturity and patience to climb the ladder.
Obviously they will have more depth and options when Roy O’Donovan and Joey Champness are available, but they have also been well in every match they have contested so far, so there are no major structural problems.
A slightly sharper cutting edge, a fraction more concentration and intensity at the defensive end, and a touch of good luck is all that is missing, on the surface at this stage.
Whether or not the front-third stocks have been sufficiently replenished since the departure formerly of Andrew Nabbout, and more recently of Riley McGree, is an argument which will unfold in front of us this season.
As I have noted on several platforms already this season, this looks to be a very even competition, but if Sydney’s Adam Le Fondre keeps scoring at his current rate, last season’s minor premiers could make a liar of me once again.
Graham Arnold has departed, but the nucleus of the side remains very settled and new coach Steve Corica has been with the club since the A-league’s inception, scoring the grand final goal which won the first “Toilet Seat” for FC in the inaugural season, and working his way through the coaching ranks.
The question has always seemed likely to be whether the goals of Bobo and Adrian Mierzejewski could be replaced, and Englishman Le Fondre is currently relishing the responsibility of doing so.
I have to say I was surprised that Sydney disposed of Melbourne City so emphatically at the end of a tough week, last Friday night, perhaps those exertions may leave them a little flat for Saturday night?
You’d like to hope so from a Newcastle perspective, and last season the Jets’ pace and mobility caused the Sky Blues more trouble than had been the case for quite a number of seasons, splitting the spoils with a win each, and a draw, in the three clashes. That said, Sydney still hold an imposing overall record against them.
The clashes between Vargas and Sydney’s sitting midfielders could be key to the shape of the contest. Brillante and O’Neill will also be mindful of getting Dimi Petratos off the ball when he heads inside from his match up with Sydney left back Michael Zullo.
At the other end of the pitch it’s easy to look at Le Fondre’s goals and nominate him as the main danger man, but Alex Brosque has been a thorn in the side for many Jets teams, and Milos Ninkovic has slipped comfortably back into being Sydney’s main man, since the departure of Mierzejewski.
Is those two get too much latitude, and are allowed to establish too much connection and combination, the Jets will be stretched and thoroughly tested defensively.
It’s obviously an important game, one which Merrick will be espousing as an excellent opportunity to bounce back in, and a tantalising end to a great sporting week.
Which leads me nicely to the big race today . The winner is very likely to be sporting predominantly blue silks and I reckon if you box up numbers 2, 3, 5, 11, 22, and 23 you might get a share of a nice trifecta or first four. If it pours rain it may produce a Magic Circle (3), otherwise Lloyd will win again!
Have a great day, and go Jets on Saturday.