ARE the Newcastle Jets the real deal? After their next three games, we should have a better idea.
Unbeaten after six games and outright leaders on the A-League points table, the Jets face defending champions Sydney FC (away) on Saturday, then Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City both at home.
It’s a daunting schedule, but a challenge Newcastle’s players are eagerly anticipating, according to in-form winger Andrew Nabbout.
“We’re only six games in, there’s another 21 to go, and we’ve got a few big games ahead,” Nabbout told the Newcastle Herald.
“We’ve got Sydney, Victory and City in the next three weeks, which are three big opportunities for us to really stamp our authority on the league and really show people that we can bring it with the best of them … we’re going to embrace this opportunity.”
Newcastle, last season’s wooden spooners, are rated $9 title chances with TAB but that price could tighten suddenly if they were to upset Sydney at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
The Sky Blues have dominated Newcastle for almost five years, racking up 11 wins and two draws in the past 13 encounters between the two teams. That includes eight consecutive victories against the Jets over the past three seasons.
Nabbout said his teammates were unlikely to use their cursed record against Sydney as motivation and would approach this week as just another game, albeit against a quality opponent.
“I don’t think any of us think about those type of things,” he said. “It wasn’t until after the game in Adelaide on the weekend [a 2-1 win] that I found out we hadn’t beaten them there for 10 or 11 games.
“That was a good accomplishment ticked off, and it was the same when we won in Perth last year, where we’d had something like a 10-year drought.
“We don’t really think about these things of the day of the game. We go into every game trying to win and Sydney is going to be a big challenge, but we’re ready for it.”
Any chance of Sydney succumbing to complacency was undermined by their shock 2-0 loss to Central Coast at Gosford on Friday night.
“That showed everyone that, on your day, if you don’t play well, you can get punished in this league,” Nabbout said.
Nabbout said Saturday would be a “massive game” and was confident his teammates would rise to the challenge.
“We want to play against the best teams, and we want every team we play against to field their strongest side, because that makes us better players,” he said.
“Obviously it’s going to be a big game. Sydney will be looking to prove a point after last week and live up to their reputation, and it’s going to be good test for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
Nabbout agreed with the assessment of coach Ernie Merrick after the win against Adelaide, saying Newcastle “have so much more to offer” than they showed.
“For the first 30 to 40 minutes, they set the tempo and played in our half,” he said.
“It wasn’t until then that we really picked up. But even then, we were very dangerous on set pieces and on counter-attack.
“We’ve got players who can hurt other teams in every area of the pitch. Even though it wasn’t our best game, we came away with three points, and I think that’s what counts.
“If you can get results without playing all that well, those points are really important.”