A-League Season Preview: Newcastle Jets – Just happy to be here
Newcastle Jets season preview (Image: Supplied)
We very nearly did not have a Newcastle Jets for the 2012/13 A-League season. Previewing their season ahead is a win in itself. With Emile Heskey now in the line-up, how far can they go?
The Recap – Newcastle Jets
After Nathan Tinkler threatened to hand back the club’s licence in April, Jets supporters could be forgiven for worrying less about the current composition of Gary van Egmond’s squad and more about Newcastle’s long-term A-League future.
That’s especially the case given Tinkler’s well-documented financial problems, with the embattled Jets owner said to owe tens of millions to a variety of disgruntled businesses.
It hasn’t stopped the Jets from splashing the cash on former English Premier League striker Emile Heskey and all jokes about his goal scoring record aside, Heskey should prove a key player for the Novocastrians.
Not only does he bring a wealth of experience after more than a decade in the English top flight – not to mention 62 international caps – he should also take some of the pressure off another key man Ryan Griffiths in attack.
The Jets have made another couple of interesting foreign signings in the form of pint-sized Brazilian Bernardo Ribeiro and Swiss defender Dominik Ritter.
Both are young – 22 and 23 respectively – both were highly-rated youth players and both have endured club-hopping careers to date.
Riberio arrives on the back of some red-hot form for Albanian champions Skënderbeu where he scored five goals and laid on seven assists in the final 10 games of the Albanian season, while Ritter is regarded as a hard-nosed defender who didn’t quite make the grade at Swiss giants FC Basel.
They could prove useful acquisitions given the relative inexperience of the Newcastle squad, with the Jets embarking on a clear-out at the end of the last campaign.
Van Egmond’s squad may now be brimming with youth but the former Australian Institute of Sport coach hasn’t half signed some talented players.
Highly-rated former Gold Coast trio James Brown, Josh Brilliante and Mitch Cooper join ex-Melbourne Heart youngster Craig Goodwin, former Perth Glory defenders Josh Mitchell and Scott Neville and one-time Adelaide United goalkeeper Mark Birighetti on the Newcastle books.
The key now is for van Egmond to mould a disparate bunch of individuals into a cohesive outfit capable of holding their own both at home and away.
The latter point is important as the Jets possess one of the worst away records in the A-League and unless they can start winning on the road, they may find themselves scrapping it out in the lower reaches of the table.
But Heskey is surely the X-factor, particularly with fellow front man Griffiths labouring in pre-season with a recurrent hamstring injury.
If the powerfully built striker can get off to a goal-scoring start then his presence may help lift Newcastle’s youngsters to greater heights and – preferably for Jets fans – some wins on the road.
But if it’s the Heskey who scored just once for Aston Villa last season we see on Australian shores – rather than the target man who once terrorised English defences for a brief time at Liverpool – the Jets could struggle for goals.
At the very least they’ll have a partisan crowd behind them, with membership sales ticking along nicely at what is always a tough venue for away sides to negotiate.
But with a new-look squad and the threat of off-field drama never far away, this could be a season of transition for the Jets – and one which sees them narrowly miss out on the finals.
Prediction: Missing the playoffs
In: Bernardo Ribeiro (Skënderbeu, Albania), Mark Birighetti (Adelaide United), Joshua Brilliante (Gold Coast United), James Brown (Gold Coast United), Mitch Cooper (Gold Coast United), Craig Goodwin (Melbourne Heart), Josh Mitchell (Perth Glory), Scott Neville (Perth Glory), Dominik Ritter (FC Winterthur, Switzerland), Adam Taggart (Perth Glory), Emile Heskey (uncontracted)
Out: Ali Abbas (Sydney FC), Jeremy Brockie (Wellington Phoenix), Tarek Elrich, Labinot Haliti, Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Western Sydney Wanderers), Marcello Fiorentini (Viktoria Aschaffenburg, Germany)
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman
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