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It’s going to be a long season for the Jets

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3rd August, 2022
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Watching the meek performance Newcastle mustered against Adelaide in the Australia Cup, it was clear that the club has taken a step backwards.

Last season they finished as the league’s third highest scorers, with only the Mariners and City outscoring them, albeit this was helped by a couple of freak 4-0 wins over the Wellington Phoenix. But the signs are that the potency of their attack has diminished.

The creativity in goal was provided by a front four of Olivier Boumal, Valentino Yuel, Daniel Penha and Beka Mikeltadze, with this quartet accounting for 60 per cent of the side’s goals in 2021-22. But aside from the last named of that list, they have all left the club.

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Replacements have been sourced in the form of Reno Piscopo, Trent Buhagiar and Jaushua Sotirio, but on Saturday Piscopo was not on the pitch, while the other two did not get close to the level seen last year from the departed players.

The young Archie Goodwin will hopefully improve this year, and he offers some hope, while the inconsistent Kosta Grozos will need to put his stamp on games much more than his anonymous performance against the Reds. However, all the preseason indicators point to the Jets being overly reliant on Beka Mikeltadze, and this will become only more obvious this year if those around him do not step up.

They had weaknesses on the defensive side last year, and these problems remained against Adelaide. In the 2021-22 season Newcastle finished as the side with the equal fourth worst defensive record – and this stat is arguably skewed in their favour given Wellington were worse than them only due to the eight goals conceded in the two 4-0 games against the Jets.

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

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Looking at their signings, not much has been done in terms of personnel changes to address the Newcastle defence in the post-season.

Jack Duncan remains their first-choice keeper, with the former Dockerty Cup-winning keeper from Hume Michael Weier having signed at the start of last season to give the club stalwart some competition. But neither of these keepers are likely to feature in any fan lists of the top five keepers in the division.

In front of him sit the centreback pairing of former Socceroo Matt Jurman and former Reds man Jordan Elsey. Both are solid but relatively limited and past their best. Fullbacks Dane Ingham, Jason Hoffman and new signing James McGarry are all decent going forward but are prone to mistakes when carrying out their defensive duties.

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Against Adelaide neither Weier nor the centrebacks covered themselves in glory when conceding a scrappy set piece goal, indicating that the defensive woes may continue. Jets fans will be hoping that the other new signing, the young defender Mark Natta, will provide some improvements and that Arthur Papas can bring some of his defensive organisation that saw Green Gully tighten up their defence in 2016 when he took over a team with a leaky defence in the NPL Victoria.

Another major positive from last season was the improvement of Angus Thurgate, who was unlucky to lose out to the Georgian Mikeltadze as the Jets player of the season. The 22-year-old from Port Macquarie was by far the league’s most improved player. He added goals to his game in 2021-22, which in addition to his outstanding work rate as a box-to-box midfielder has given the club a crucial anchor in the middle of the park.

With Brandon O’Neill signed as a holding player following a disappointing stint at Perth, the Novocastrians will be hoping for a relationship to form in a way that sees Thurgate get even better.

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However, Thurgate alone will not be enough to deliver finals football to the soccer-mad region of Newcastle.

Taking the evidence seen against the Reds on Saturday, it looks like it’s going to be a long season at the Hunter.

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