THERE seems little doubt the Central Coast Mariners will be there or thereabouts at the business end of the A-League season.
The Newcastle Jets? Well, that remains to be seen.
Judging by their performances over the past month, the Jets appear to be stuck in neutral, going nowhere fast.
After a promising start to the campaign that yielded three consecutive wins between rounds two and four, Newcastle have taken one point from their past four games.
Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Mariners at Hunter Stadium raised the question of whether the hole they are digging will eventually become so deep there is no escape.
The Jets are down on personnel and confidence.
First-team regulars Jobe Wheelhouse, Ben Kantarovski, Ryan Griffiths, Josh Mitchell, Mark Birighitti, Ben Kennedy and Tiago Calvano were unavailable through injury or suspension. New signing Adam Taggart was away with the Socceroos.
By the same token, Central Coast were without Tommy Rogic, Mathew Ryan and Mile Sterjovski, so they too were below full capacity.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond said his players, buoyed by the knowledge they were the only team to beat Central Coast this season, back in round three, took a "very, very positive" attitude into the match.
But his Mariners counterpart, Graham Arnold, was more matter-of-fact, telling his troops to show "killer instinct".
"Before the game, I said to the players to play with their brains and their quality, not with emotion," Arnold said.
"OK, it's a derby, but it's another game, and if we play to our quality then there's only one team on the park that will win the game."
And so it proved.
Newcastle hung in for the first 20 minutes but gradually the visitors gained the upper hand. If not for some heroics from keeper Matthew Nash, the Jets could have been two goals down at half-time.
The ease with which Daniel McBreen scored in the 49th and 66th minutes has been the story of Newcastle's season.
"The goal from the corner was terrible . . . you could drive a truck through that area in the centre," van Egmond said.
The Jets have now conceded 19 goals in 10 games. And whereas their coach was arguing just a few weeks ago that "we always look like we've got goals in us", they have not scored in their past two starts.
On Saturday night, even Emile Heskey rarely threatened.
But perhaps the most telling observation came from Arnold, who knows better than most that few trophies are awarded a third of the way into any season.
"Look, it's round 10," he said. "There's 17 games to go.
"We don't even mention that in the dressing room. It's about next week."
Those words should offer Newcastle some comfort.
Nobody will remember this early-season funk once the finals kick off.
In their premiership-winning campaign of 2007-08, for instance, the Jets were winless in four games between rounds 11 and 14.
There will be plenty of twists left in this season.
The Jets have to ride out this rough patch, regroup and ensure they play with form and momentum in four months' time.
They will need it. In all likelihood the Mariners will be waiting for them.