NEWCASTLE Jets games record-holder Ben Kantarovski can’t remember the last time he was part of an A-League win over Sydney FC, such has been the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs.
For the record, it was round two of the 2012-13 season as a 70th minute substitute in a 3-2 victory. His only other win, in 17 games against the Sky Blues, was in 2009-10 – the last season Newcastle made the finals.
The Jets, though, will be in the unfamiliar position of ladder leaders when they try to break a 13-game winless run against Sydney at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
Unbeaten Newcastle are on 14 points after six rounds, one point ahead of Melbourne City and defending premiers Sydney.
Kantarovski, 25, said it was “an unbelievable feeling” to have the Jets in top spot.
“We haven’t felt this for a long time here at Newcastle and I think you can see the buzz around the town,” Kantarovski said. “The players and the environment we have at the club now, I think everyone is abuzz.
“That just hasn’t come through luck either. We’ve worked hard all pre-season, and through Ernie’s recruitment and his management and coaching, and the way he’s got the team working together, and the way he’s got the club together with [CEO] Lawrie [McKinna] as well. We’re all pushing forward and hopefully we’re going to stay there.”
That goal faces a mighty test against Sydney, who have won the past eight games against Newcastle.
“I think it’s always good to break those voodoos and that’s what makes it a challenge and makes it fun, going out to training being up for a game like that against Sydney,” he said. “They are the ex-champions, you always want to beat them. I think we’re going to go out there with all guns blazing.”
The Jets’ flying start has sparked hopes of them making the play-offs and ending another hoodoo. Kantarovski said “it would be unbelievable” to play in the finals with Newcastle again “but we’ve got a long road ahead of us”. The midfielder played in the club’s last play-off, a 3-1 loss to Wellington in 2010.
Kantarovski gained the support of Ernie Merrick to secure another contract at the Jets this season and he has rewarded the new coach with strong performances and two goals, including one against Adelaide in a 2-1 win last week.
Many would say Kantarovski has been in career-best form, but the man himself was just happy to be playing consistently after four knee surgeries.
“It’s been good to play regular football,” he said. “I haven’t had that for a long time, just through injuries and everything else, so it’s good to be out there just week in, week out and being able to do what I love.”
As for what has been difference this season for Newcastle, he said: “I think it’s just the environment that we’ve created in the club. We just want to win and there’s that desire, and even when we’re not playing our best, I think even Adelaide speaks to that. We didn’t play our best performance ... but we ground it out and worked really hard for each other.”
“We probably did that extra little bit that we need to do to win and I think that’s what’s made the difference this year.”
“Hopefully with that will come some more quality.
“Each player and each team is learning as the season goes on and hopefully we keep improving as well.”