RESPECTED Foxtel commentator Andy Harper has called for an inquiry into the Newcastle Jets' slide into the A-League cellar, declaring: "The decay and the decline [this season] has been nothing short of alarming."
In a forthright interview on ABC radio's "Talking Sport" on Saturday, the former Newcastle Breakers striker argued that the Jets' roster was not the worst in the A-League, and that they had similar footballing resources to rival clubs.
Newcastle, who parted company with former owner Martin Lee and coach Carl Robinson in the pre-season, are winless in their past 11 games and sit last on the ladder, two points behind Melbourne Victory, who have a game in hand.
Harper described Victory as an "ordinary team" who were always likely to struggle this season.
"I don't put Newcastle Jets in that category," he told ABC.
"The difference between Victory and the Jets is that whilst Victory were always heading for this sort of trouble this season, in my opinion, the Jets were promising plenty ... but the decay and the decline since has been nothing short of alarming."
Harper pointed to the end of last season, when the Jets finished with seven wins and three draws in their last 11 games to miss out on the finals by three points.
"Had they had one or probably two more wins and made the finals, I am on the public record as saying I believe the Newcastle Jets would have made the grand final, and would have had a good chance of winning it," Harper said.
He added the "same group of players were promising plenty" and playing a "compelling, competitive, attractive brand of football", both under Robinson and during the interim phase before Craig Deans was confirmed as the Welshman's full-time replacement.
"And then something has happened with the management of these players, to the point where they are now bottom of the table, and it should be the source of an inquiry," he said.
Harper added: "The leak of performance, the leak in confidence, the leak of output has become a flood ... I just watch this team and it's lifeless."
He said "on one level" he admired the faith Deans had shown in his players.
"But the acceptance of mediocrity, the lack of accountability - for the players, there is no responsibility on them," he said. "The same errors are going unpunished. The same lack of form is accepted. Hence why they're at the bottom of the table ...
"This team is too important for the league, it's too important for the fans, and it's too important for me, for this to continue. Seismic change has to take place."
Harper also accused the Jets of "closing the door on local juniors", comparing them unfavourably to Adelaide's development system, which he said had produced 39 players across the A-League this season, as well as four based overseas.
Jets executive chairman Shane Mattiske said Harper was entitled to his opinion and welcomed his passion for the club.
"There's no question that there was a disruption before the season started with the change of ownership," Mattiske said.
"We've had to re-launch the club and start from scratch.
"The reality is that the squad we have now is the one that we were left with. We've been working hard on improving the resources, finishing this season competitively and building a much stronger squad for next season."
Mattiske saw no value in debating Harper's claims point by point.
But in fairness to the Jets, at the end of last season they lost former Socceroos Dimi Petratos and Bernie Ibini, ex-Premier League stars Wes Hoolahan and Joe Ledley, veteran goalkeeper Glen Moss, Nick Fitzgerald, a veteran of 189 A-League games, and Panamanian international Abdiel Arroyo.
Injuries have also sidelined senior players Nigel Boogaard, Ben Kantarovski, Jason Hoffman and Johnny Koutroumbia for long stretches this season.