CONTROVERSY. Key men injured. Another dud import. A star playmaker who arrived at the 11th hour only to have injury end his season. Written off before the season started.
Different year, same script for the Jets.
Initially, Branko Culina was reluctant to take the reins after the shock departure in June by Gary van Egmond, who accepted a lucrative offer to take over as coach at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Soon, the competitive juices kicked in. Culina, a survivor from the days of the NSL, had been sacked unceremoniously by Sydney FC 18 months prior and was determined to prove a point.
Wooden-spooners the previous season, the Jets climbed to sixth place and were in reach of the top two with four rounds remaining.
They then bumped hot shots Gold Coast out of the finals and went to extra time against the Phoenix.
"If someone said at the start of the season we would be in the last four teams, I would have said, 'Yeah sure, tell me another one'," Culina said.
And it was done to a large extent without a marquee, without Joel Griffiths, who had moved to Beijing on loan, and without late signing Michael Bridges.
"You can't get more experienced than Fabio and Michael," Culina said. "It's a small miracle that we got to where we did."
But what it did do was provide an opportunity for others to emerge. Jobe Wheelhouse, Adam D'Apuzzo and Ali Abbas stood out.
"There were many positives from a playing point of view, but more importantly as a squad we showed we had tremendous character," Culina said. "Jobe Wheelhouse's performance . . . when I first came to the club he was a squad player and everyone told him he would always be a squad player. It is a credit to him that he has responded and become almost a key player. Other players were not really highly regarded but came through well.
"Ali Abbas, when we brought him over he was an injury replacement player. Labinot Haliti proved early on, when he was fresh, he had a lot to offer. Adam D'Apuzzo had a terrific year in both defence and in midfield. Matt Thompson was outstanding once we moved him into midfield. We did Melbourne Heart a favour identifying a true role for him. As individuals for parts of the season Ljubo Milicevic and Nikolai Topor-Stanley were terrific, but what we didn't quite get right was the chemistry. We need to address that."
Van Egmond's exit in June took everyone by surprise and sparked a war of words between owner Con Constantine and Football Federation Australia.
The 2008 championship-winning mentor had inked a four-year deal to stay in Newcastle.
Furious, Constantine demanded compensation for the betrayal and later accused the FFA of inducing van Egmond to walk away from the Jets, allegations the governing body refuted.
"I'm very, very disappointed with Gary ... but the people that I'm really disappointed with are the FFA," Constantine said. "They're supposed to be the police officers of our competition, who make sure the rules and regulations get carried out. Gary had a four-year contract with the club, and I expect someone to compensate the club. What they [FFA] did was very wrong. I am not going to tolerate or take crap from anyone."
After opening the season with a 3-2 win over Wellington, things turned sour for Culina and the Jets.
By round twelve, they had slipped to equal last on the back of six straight games without a victory and were facing another annus horribilis campaign.
A 2-1 derby triumph over the Mariners was the catalyst for a dramatic turnaround.
Fronting the revival were senior men, former Premier League striker Bridges and the volatile Milicevic.
Bridge's class and leadership of a young attack, at times, was the difference before injury stuck yet again.
Milicevic launched an extraordinary tirade at Constantine before the season had kick off, in which he fumed: "I love the city, I love the fans and have some good mates here, but am I going to be treated like a prostitute? No. I'm not sure that they want me here because I speak up . . . I'm not to question the hierarchy, I'm supposed to just stand here and cop it up the a--e. You say things and you hope it gets better. But every time something happens you think f---k me, they don't learn."
However, after the almighty serve, one of numerous, Milicevic took a vow of silence and provided the defensive ballast and passing quality the side desperately needed.
The reborn outfit, propelled by four straight wins, had risen to fourth place on 28 points at Christmas - the most points the club have earned at that juncture.
In January, the Jets lost keeper Neil Young thanks to a late challenge from Gold Coast striker Shane Smeltz, which left the custodian with five fractures in his nose.
Young had surgery to repair the nose, but then suffered an adverse reaction to antibiotics that left him fighting for his life. He spent months in hospital, including several weeks in intensive care, and had to endure several operations, including one to remove a large portion of his bowel.
In his absence, Ben Kennedy stepped and was the hero in a penalty shoot-out win over Gold Coast in the elimination semi-final.
After making a string of spectacular saves, including three in extra-time, Kennedy's crowning moment came in the penalty shoot-out. With the Jets holding a 6-5 advantage, he dived full stretch to his left and flung up a strong right hand to block a drive by Zenon Caravella.
The Jets' run would end in another extra-time epic, this time going down to the Phoenix 3-1 in Wellington.
"Even though we did ever so well this year, I am frustrated that we didn't go all the way," Culina said.
"I want to bring this club to a position where we go into every game knowing we can win. I'd like to have a genuine chance of going for the championship next year."