LUCKLESS midfielder Ben Kantarovski will play no part in the 2020-21 A-League season after the Newcastle Jets revealed on Monday he had undergone surgery on his lower back.
Kantarovski, Newcastle's most-capped player with 196 A-League appearances, has been troubled by a nerve problem and required a number of injections in his back during the pre-season.
He resumed training in late February and was preparing to making a comeback, only to suffer a recurrence of a related calf injury three weeks ago.
The Jets released a statement on Monday saying that surgery was "the best option for his long-term prospects".
The 29-year-old, who has another season to run on his contract with the Jets, has played only five minutes of football since February last year, because of injuries and the coronavirus shutdown.
He has spent long, frustrating periods on the sidelines during his career, in particular after needing a knee reconstruction in his formative years.
He told the Newcastle Herald last month this injury had "probably been one of the toughest ones" but he had never pondered the prospect of being forced to hang up the boots.
"It never really even crossed my mind," he said at the time. "It was more, I can't wait to be back out there. How quick, how soon can I get fit and I just want to get out there and help the boys."
Kantarovski's regular midfield partner, Steven Ugarkovic, has staked an undeniable claim for a return to the starting team after his long-range goal as substitute in Sunday's 2-all draw with Macarthur Bulls.
Ugarkovic had not played for three games, amid speculation that he might make a mid-season transfer to Western Sydney, but he could hardly have done more to impress coach Craig Deans on Sunday night.
"I have to pick him now, don't I?" Deans said.
"He can't come on and contribute to the game in that way and not get rewarded. As long as he's fit, he'll come back into the team."
Deans said it had been "a tough couple of weeks for Stevie", who has played in 133 A-League games for Newcastle but has signed for the Wanderers next season.
"Him and I have a good relationship," Deans said.
"We chat all the time, and we're both very honest with each other.
"I know exactly where he's at and what we need from him. So it will be the same thing this week, although I think the transfer window is open for another week or two, and until it closes, I'm sure people will continue to talk about it."
Deans said Ugarkovic's goal was "great for the team and the club, and it's nice for Stevie".
"I think it's his first goal for the season and he's capable of things like that on a regular basis," he said.
"We push him to be a bit more aggressive with the ball and a bit more attack-minded."
While Deans was happy to return from Campbelltown with a competition point, after Newcastle's second consecutive draw, he was far from satisfied with their overall performance.
"I thought the first half tonight we were OK but we were completely outplayed from a football point of view," he said. "But Macarthur are a very good team with some very good players, so it's not as easy place to come, and we had a chance right near the end to win it."
AAP reports: Teenage striker Ben Waine scored a long-range screamer to help inspire the Wellington Phoenix to an upset 3-1 win over Perth Glory at HBF Park.
Phoenix scored all of their goals in the second half of Sunday night's match, with Waine's 56th-minute strike the standout.