THE Newcastle Jets recorded a third straight clean sheet as the Central Coast Mariners discovered life without wonder boy Tomas Rogic is not going to be easy.
The Jets and Mariners fought out a scoreless stalemate at a rain-drenched Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night that threw up more questions than answers for the league leaders.
For the Mariners all eyes were on debutant Anthony Caceres, who was this week anointed as the successor to Celtic-bound Tomas Rojic.
The Marconi junior worked hard but struggled to make an impact and was replaced after 55 minutes by veteran Nick Montgomery.
Kiwi international Michael McGlinchey was the most likely for a Mariners outfit unable to break down a Jets defence that has been transformed from a leaky boat into brick wall in recent weeks.
After giving up 28 goals in the opening 14 rounds, the Jets have not conceded a goal in five-and-a-half-hours of football.
The point moved the Mariners to 35 points and extended their lead to three from Adelaide, who were stunned 2-0 by Melbourne Heart on Friday night.
The Jets progressed to 21 points, but slipped a place to sixth, courtesy of the Heart's win.
Referee Alan Milliner issued four yellow cards in a derby that, though providing plenty of tension, lacked the fire of previous encounters.
As the scoreline suggests, there was very little between the teams. Possession was shared 50-50, the Jets had 13 shots to the Mariners 10 and the visitors won the corners 8-7. Both keepers made three saves.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond opted against exposing Andrew Hoole to the pressure of a derby, despite the 19-year-old's outstanding debut at right back in the 1-0 win over the Roar.
Scott Neville earned a recall in his place, Emile Heskey returned to lead the attack and Josh Mitchell was called up for Taylor Regan (strained calf).
Confirmation of Rojic's departure capped a tumultuous week for the home side.
Bernie Ibini is also overseas on trial at Club Brugge and coach Graham Arnold was forced to watch the game from John Singleton's suite in the western grandstand after receiving a one-match ban for abusing match officials during the 1-all draw with Melbourne Victory.
The heat wave which melted most of NSW and had the state on bushfire alert was replaced by rain and cold conditions more akin to an English winter.
After receiving a welcome challenge in the back from Jets defender Josh Mitchell, Caceres had the Mariners' first half chance, but nodded his header straight into the ground and was easily kept by Mark Birighitti.
At the other end, Heskey got on the end of two headers, which he flicked on the far post but they fell safely.
Even with the changes to the back four, the Jets are more resilient than they were a month ago.
The Mariners attacked down both flanks but had little joy until the 40th minute when Michael McGlinchey skipped inside two defenders on the right and lifted a shot form 10 metres but couldn't beat Birighitti who flew high and tipped the ball over the bar.
The closest the Jets went to breaking the deadlock was a long-range effort from Josh Brillante four minutes from the break which Matt Ryan knocked over the bar to safety.
The Jets continued to force the issue and had two golden chances to go ahead inside four minutes of the second half. Craig Goodwin hit the side netting and James Brown lifted a shot over the bar when he had Ryan Griffiths and Emile Heskey unmarked in the six-yard box.
While the Jets rued missed chances van Egmond was pleased with the way his side has continued to improve their defence.
"If you play the team that is coming first on their home turf and you come away without conceding and you get something out of the game, that is a positive," he said.
Looking for a spark, van Egmond replaced Heskey with James Virgili and pushed Griffiths to the point of the attack, where he scored the match-winner against the Roar.
A relatively tame derby threatened to erupt in the 63rd minute when Josh Mitchell cut down Montgomery. Players from both camps converged by Mitchell was the only one booked.
Both sides pushed and probed searching for a winner.
The winner did not come but Mariners assistant coach Phil Moss, who deputised for Graham Arnold, said the clean sheet was a positive out of a tense F3 battle.
"Arnies' philosophy from day one has been to keep cleans sheets and be hard to beat and hard to break down, " Moss said last night.
"I thought we did well on that front tonight. It was a scrap and it wasn't the prettiest game of football.
"I could have gone either way and I thought our players determination to keep a clean sheet was fantastic."
"The fight and determination not to give the game away had Graham Arnold written all over it.
As part of Arnold's suspension, he was not permitted to interact with the team from two hours before kick-off until an hour after full-time.
His assistant Phil Moss took the reins and gave instructions from the sideline.
However the Jets suspicions were raised when they noticed that one of the Mariners assistants on the bench had an earpiece in and was talking on a walkie talkie and approached the fourth official to investigate
"I was wondering who they were talking to,' van Egmond said.
"Apparently it was Adrian Pellegrino.
"If I was the fourth official and I saw one of the assistant coaches with an ear piece and talking. You now the coach is not on the bench, what would you think?."
Moss flatly rejected any suggestion that Arnold had been communicating with the bench.
"I can put that straight to bed. I didn't hear from Arnie once during the game. There was no communication at all," he said.
When asked if he would take the matter further, Van Egmond said "That is for the league, that is not for me to decided. If you are going to make rules and see something like that, I thought the fourth official could have been a bit more switched on.
"He may well have done."