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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

Season Preview: Can the Jets put their off-field woes aside and make the finals?

With the new A-League season right around the corner, Front Page Football will be breaking down each club's chances and what we can expect from them in 2020-21.

Next up is the Newcastle Jets.

How did they fare last season?

The Jets failed to make the finals for the second successive season, despite losing one of their last twelve games.

Carl Robinson did a brilliant job replacing Ernie Merrick.

The latter was sacked in January after Newcastle started the season with just two wins from their first eleven.

After looking nowhere near a finals spot in the early part of the campaign, they rallied only to finish three points off sixth place.

Unfortunately for Jets fans, Robinson will not be at the helm this time around after leaving for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

It is a shame for them because the Welshman might have brought finals football back to McDonald Jones Stadium with a full season in charge.

What is expected of them this season?

About a week ago, I wrote a piece that underlined the multitude of off-field issues plaguing Newcastle, and how it could have a devastating effect on their on-field performance.

The Jets are still without a coach, just a week out from the season opener.

They have lost key players, who they have failed to replace sufficiently, and are suffering crippling financial difficulties behind the scenes.

Those factors are never a recipe for success, and I would not expect anything from them in 2020-21.

If I were a Jets fan, I would be apprehensive about winning the wooden spoon.

Under normal circumstances, they would be targeting finals football.

But with no manager and insufficient recruitment, it isn't easy to see how they will be successful.

Players to watch?

It's not all doom and gloom though, as the Jets have retained some of their more crucial players from recent years.

Steven Ugarkovic has been a mainstay ever since his excellent midfield performances helped Merrick take the club to the Grand Final in 2018.

Provided he stays, which is still unclear after he admitted back in October to wanting a change, he will be one of their most important players yet again.

Roy O'Donovan returned for a second stint at the club back in February, netting four times in the second half of last season.

Roy O'Donovan (centre) in action against Western United last season. (Getty Images)

He needs service from midfield though, and experienced Welshman Joe Ledley should provide that as he continues to adapt to Australian football.

Any youngsters coming through?

Given the general lack of recruitment and financial difficulties, Newcastle is the perfect club right now for Australian kids to get their big break in the A-League.

Angus Thurgate broke out last season in several different roles in midfield and the attacking areas.

The 20-year-old, dubbed 'The Port Macquarie Pele' by many of the Jets faithful, should see regular minutes this season and be trusted with more responsibility.

Thurgate was a shining light for the Jets last season. (Jonathan Carroll)

Valentino Yuel got his first A-League contract at Western United last season but was never really given a chance.

The winger should see more minutes at Newcastle though, especially with Bernie Ibini and Nick Fitzgerald leaving the club.

Olyroo Ramy Najjarine is highly rated by parent club Melbourne City but has made the right decision to go out on loan after struggling with first-team opportunities.

Hopefully, the playmaker can finally make his much-anticipated breakthrough in 2020-21.

And how's the manager?

This question is difficult to answer as the Jets don't have a manager appointed right now.

I doubt interim manager Craig Deans is the preferred option to take over full-time.

He might be, as CEO Lawrie McKinna may give up in his search of an experienced manager and allow Deans to prove himself.

The added complication of prioritising local coaches, due to the travelling restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, does not make the search any easier either.

John Aloisi, or even Marco Kurz, who I believe still resides in Australia at the moment, are decent options with past A-League coaching experience.

The eye-catching appointment would be Kevin Muscat, who recently lost his job with Belgian side Sint-Truidense and may be looking for a return to Australia.

The other option is searching in the NPL.

Former Socceroo Luke Wilkshire has managed Wollongong Wolves to first and second place in his two seasons in charge of the New South Wales NPL side.

Whoever ends up with the top job permanently is being thrown into a chaotic situation.

It is difficult for any manager to focus on their team when so much is wrong behind the scenes.

However, focusing on the on-field factors is what the next Newcastle boss needs to do if they want to do the club justice, and maintain the Jets' pride during this troublesome period.


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