THE LOWEDOWN: Jets have hope, not goals

Nanjing Night Net

IT was a bit of a throwaway line towards the end of last week’s column when I said that by Sunday night we might have a new Socceroos coach and a new favourite for the Melbourne Cup, and the Jets could get on the score sheet and be in the top six.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad, as Meatloaf once told us. And to be fair to the Jets, they did everything bar score against Wellington in scenic Napier on Sunday afternoon.

Of course, much will be made of the fact that the Jets haven’t scored in 406 minutes of A-League football – 270 minutes of that this season. And that is a problem, but they were far more proactive and energetic against Wellington than in their two previous matches.

In fact, in isolation, a trip to New Zealand, a clean sheet and an away point is not a bad return. When you consider the way the Jets imposed themselves in the opening stanza, there were definitely some positives to be garnered.

Gary van Egmond changed his team’s shape and personnel a little, particularly in the midfield where Ben Kantarovski and Josh Brillante added some extra bite and an extra body.

With the Jets looking to dominate in that crucial area, and with Wellington coach Ernie Merrick deploying essentially four attacking players, the Phoenix’s Manny Muscat and Vince Lia found themselves outnumbered and chasing shadows.

At half-time, sensing they were being overrun, Merrick withdrew Paul Ifill who, as strikers tend to do when asked to play a kind of half-and-half role, was more effective as an attacker than in defensive duties. They replaced him with anchor midfielder Albert Riera.

This move certainly helped restore some equilibrium to the flow of the contest, as did the departure of the busy and combative Jets skipper Ruben Zadkovich.

From that point on, the game became a bit of an arm wrestle. Neither side really looked like winning, and a draw was probably about the right result.

All of which makes the derby clash with the Mariners at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night ultra-important.

Arch-rivals Central Coast probably couldn’t have asked for a better lead-up game to this encounter than their 1-0 win over Adelaide last Saturday provided.

Against a team that likes to pass the ball and dominate possession, the Mariners created plenty of chances with a meagre 34 per cent of the ball and with nearly 300 fewer completed passes.

Graham Arnold has plenty of players to choose from in the front third, with the power of Mitch Duke and Matt Simon. Add the mobility of Nick Fitzgerald, the guile of Marcos Flores and Mile Sterjovski, and Kiwi international Michael McGlinchey, who has more than his share of both those qualities, and contemplate the possible return of last season’s golden boot Daniel McBreen – and you get the picture.

Despite that attacking arsenal, the Mariners will probably play reasonably conservatively, invite the Jets to make the running and hope to sting on the counterattack.

They are capable of pressing very effectively when necessary. But I’d imagine that will be done at chosen times, and for limited periods.

Van Egmond will be well aware of the outlook of Arnold and his stylistic preference. And his response – both in a tactical sense and in terms of starting personnel – will be of much interest.

There has been an almost public appeal for the return of Emile Heskey – it is hoped his presence will solve the Jets goal-scoring woes.

The almost unwavering modern belief in the merits of sports science would surely rule out a starting role for the big Englishman for fear of any fatigue-related injuries.

You’d imagine a cameo role off the bench might be the start to the marquee man’s season, easing him back to full capacity.

Regardless, it is probably lumping a little too much pressure on one man to turn around the club’s goal-scoring deficiencies.

The derby games with the Mariners are usually fairly spicy affairs. Both sets of players hate to lose this fixture but probably not as much as the respective fans do.

The 7.30pm kick-off on a Saturday will help the spectacle and add to the atmosphere.

I’m working backwards on my triumvirate of off-hand predictions. And yes, we do have a new Melbourne Cup favourite following a couple of scratchings and the effort of Fiorente, which was set a bigger task than the early settlers in Saturday’s Cox Plate. But more on that – and perhaps a sneaky tip – in next week’s column.

Which leaves us with the appointment of Ange Postecoglou as the Australian coach for the next five years. All the hints in the media suggested that this was the road the FFA would take. And so it was. It wasn’t until a good friend, and very respected figure in the game asked me, ‘‘What do you make of the appointment, Lowie,’’ that I stopped to gather my thoughts.

Was it the right time for an Aussie coach? Would we seek a long-term appointment, or an interim coach to see us past the World Cup in Brazil? Hiddink? Rijkaard? Houllier? Ferguson even?

SBS analyst Craig Foster made some very valid points about patriotism running rampant and clouding clear thinking. Ange himself was quoted as saying that the FFA should pick the best candidate for the job, regardless of nationality.

He also later stated that he believed he was that candidate, and I admire that confidence and belief. More importantly, he has the form line and CV to back up his self-assurance.

Championships with South Melbourne in the old NSL, and with Brisbane more recently, attest to his ability to harness stylish football and consistent winning results – not always comfortable bedfellows.

I also like his pragmatism. His credo of hard work and high standards is supplemented by an acknowledgement that coaching alone will take a team so far – quality players are a must to make a difference. See the recruitment of Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha at Brisbane, and their impact.

This season at the Victory he decided that he needed mobility and goals. So in came Mitch Nichols and Kosta Barbarouses, and out went Marcos Flores. Need to improve the defence? Let’s get a marquee centre-back with vast international experience.

The fact that Postecoglou negotiated a five-year deal suggests he is a formidable force behind closed doors, and confirms the long-term option being exercised.

I honestly believe Postecoglou will do an excellent job long term. He is thorough, meticulous, knowledgeable, very firm, but ultimately fair.

A word for Graham Arnold. I’m not sure how he’s feeling at this time, but he too would have ticked all the major boxes.

Can Ange make the Socceroos respectable by Rio? It’s a big ask but I absolutely hope so. He certainly won’t have the individual quality of players circa Hiddink in 2006.

And it begs the question – is it about players or coaches? Perhaps both? Stay tuned.

SUPERSTAR: Emile Heskey during a recent Jets training session at Ray Watt Oval.

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