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  • Writer's pictureJack Twohill

Inexperienced Jets: Newcastle's youthfulness lacking A-League Men polish

The precarious ownership situation in Newcastle has forced Jets manager Rob Stanton to make some intriguing selection decisions during the early rounds of the new A-League Men season. In his first senior head coaching role, Stanton has been brave in experimenting with young, emerging talent, especially those who have spent time in New South Wales' top NPL competition.

Newcastle Jets left-back Lucas Mauragis in action against Melbourne City on Sunday. (Thomas Pombart)

With limited flexibility available due to Newcastle's finances, Rob Stanton has had to closely consider his recruitment, as the club counts every dollar until it is sold, with sellers KordaMentha previously suggesting a sale could be finalised sometime this month.

Whether out of necessity or genuine interest, Stanton has so far opted to lean on his younger talent, who have proven themselves for the most part, with the early signs looking very promising. Clayton Taylor has taken to the A-League Men extremely well, cementing himself as a nailed-on starter for Stanton in the season's early rounds. He has contributed two goals so far, averaging 2.4 completed dribbles and one key pass per game.

Lachlan Bayliss has also been given significant minutes this season. Although left out of the squad for Melbourne City's visit to McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday, Stanton has given the 21-year-old several opportunities after signing him from the Central Coast Mariners in the off-season, with the midfielder averaging 63 minutes per game.

Young gun Clayton Taylor added another start to his A-League Men's resume at the weekend. (Thomas Pombart)

The NPL NSW representation does not end with the players, as former Sutherland Sharks manager Damir Prodanovic joined in the off-season as Stanton's preferred second in charge.

From the outset, whether forced or not, Stanton has endeavoured to give newcomers to the competition significant game time, with the team's average age being just under 24 years old most weeks.

The defensive duo of Mark Natta and Phillip Cancar is also obtaining some valuable experience as the young core of the Jets begins to take shape.

Stanton also handed former Marconi Stallions product Justin Vidic his debut against Melbourne City, with Apostolos Stamatelopoulos unavailable through injury. Stanton's decision to play the youngster on a scholarship contract over another prodigy, Archie Goodwin, even after he marked his return with a goal in the F3 Derby, indicated the increased attention the club is paying to Goodwin's welfare and extended recovery from his back surgery in the off-season.

"We are managing him. We are only preparing to play [him] 30 minutes at this stage. If he's able to do that consistently, then we will look at that further down the track," Stanton said following the 2-0 loss when asked about the fitness of the Young Socceroo.

It seems Stanton has a style he wants to enforce, utilising the pace of wide forwards Taylor and Trent Buhagiar, and to a lesser extent Bayliss, to help the Jets attack through the wide areas as their fullbacks overlap. With Stamatelopoulos looking more than competent in the air and Vidic standing at a commanding 6' 1'', Stanton seems to want his team to secure possession in the final third to create chances and thus dominate opponents.

Unfortunately for Stanton, his youthful squad was made to look vastly inexperienced against one of the competition's premier sides in Melbourne City, as Aurelio Vidmar's side secured a much-needed three points in Newcastle.

The Jets looked out of their depth playing out from the back against a side whose press, when executed well, remains one of the most difficult to break across the league.

Ironically, a Melbourne City youngster stole the show. Ben Mazzeo scored on his starting debut in the A-League Men after an impressive season with the club's NPL outfit.



Stanton said post-match the result "was down to the quality of taking your chances."

What will be difficult for him and his coaching staff to accept is that whilst at one end, City's defence remained strong, giving minimal opportunities to the Jets attack, Newcastle's sloppiness and carelessness in possession led to both Mazzeo's header and Jamie Maclaren's close-range finish.

Whilst anyone can see the potential in Newcastle's youngsters, the lack of A-League Men experience for many on the roster has already looked like the team's undoing on multiple occasions this season.

"We made a couple of errors and got punished. You could see in the second one once they saw the error, a key moment, they punished us. That was the difference," Stanton added.

Should Stanton be allowed to carry this Jets team into a new era for the club, with a new owner in place by January who backs him to succeed, he may have to consider giving the squad some running repairs. The Jets are creating chances, so maybe all that is needed are a few more experienced or equally talented recruits to reduce the errors leading to goals and ensure his side converts more key chances as the season progresses. Newcastle fans may need to be patient should their side turn their situation around in 2023/24.

All statistics sourced from SofaScore.

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