It’s been a tough couple of years to be a Jets fan.
This season started in ominous fashion when their marquee signing, former Ireland international Wes Hoolahan, was injured in the FFA Cup.
Without their new forward, Newcastle were expected to struggle for goals. And that’s exactly what happened, with Jets currently tied for the second-lowest number of goals scored, with 24.
Their leading goalscorer has been Dimitri Petratos, with a miserly five, while Panamanian international Abdiel Arroyo has only found the back of the net twice from more than 1000 minutes.
Their expected goals (xG) suggest that the chances they have created have been worth around 33 goals. While an underperformance is to be expected, given they lack a lethal finisher, it’s still a large disparity to be almost ten goals below your expected numbers.
Nick Fitzgerald has failed to find the net even though he has a personal xG of 3.58, while fullback-cum-striker Jason Hoffman scored once from xG worth 4.24. I can count a bunch of moments when Hoffman had the intelligence to get into good positions before wasting away the opportunity, lacking the technique.
The misfortune wasn’t only on the attacking side of the pitch either, with the Jets having decent underlying numbers when it came to chances conceded, an expected goals against (xGA) of 30.06.
However, even though they succeeded in stopping teams from getting into good positions regularly, lacklustre keeping and very good finishing has left them as the third-worst team defensively in the league with 37 goals conceded.
So overall, a mixture of a lack of quality and missing that necessary luck which is required to compete at the top level has left them with a deficit of 16 goals compared to their xG numbers.
Judging by the numbers, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Newcastle have been one of the unluckiest teams in recent Australian football.
Perhaps the sacking of Ernie Merrick midway through the season was unfair given he lacked the resources to have a genuine, prolific striker and did enough defensively even if his team were losing by bucketloads by the end of his tenure.
Sydney are better than the rest, but not by much
This season has lacked a genuine race for the premiership.
Contenders like Melbourne City and Adelaide United have been mired with inconsistency while Sydney FC continued to rack up the wins and ran away on the table.
While Sydney’s xG numbers for and against do suggest they are deservedly the league leaders, the gap between them and the rest is not as big as the table would have you suggest.
Sydney are outperforming their xG numbers when it comes to scoring, with 41 goals from chances worth 37.05, still the most in the league. Given they are lucky enough to have some of the most clinical strikers in the league – think Adam le Fondre, Kosta Barbarouses and Milos Ninkovic – it is no surprise they are better than their numbers.
The big difference is in their goals conceded, where Sydney’s tight-knit defence have only conceded 15 goals.
If you just looked at that stat – as many will – it would be fair so say they might be one of the best defences in A-League history.
But the Sky Blues have actually given up an xGA of 24.64, an almost ten goal difference – changing the picture from a top-class defence to simply a good one. In fact, purely on xGA numbers, Perth Glory have a slightly better defence with 23.51.
Even with all this taken into account, Sydney’s xG difference of 12.41 is still comfortably the best in the league, but given overperformances on both sides of the pitch, it is a fair gap away from their actual goal difference of 26.
Newcastle Jets players and staff probably won’t take solace in the fact that they were not as bad as the results suggested, nor will Sydney fans care that their xG numbers are not in line with their actual numbers.
What it does tell us, though, is that the table is almost never an accurate reflection of performances and how a team played.
The classic cliché ‘the table never lies’ is fundamentally false, and this A-League season is a great example.