The Lowedown: Jets still looking good

Maybe it was a prophetic utterance, lost in a retake of Herald Half-time last week, when a camera battery failure required a second effort from Herald scribe James Gardner and myself.

HANG TIME: Newcastle's Ben Kantarovski competes for the ball with Michael Jacobsen of Melbourne City on Saturday. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

HANG TIME: Newcastle's Ben Kantarovski competes for the ball with Michael Jacobsen of Melbourne City on Saturday. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

Yes, there were nagging injury concerns for the Jets, and a pretty high-profile opponent in Melbourne City, but the thing that struck me was that Ernie Merrick's men had pretty much got what they had deserved to this point of the season.

Coming up to round nine, as I expanded my theory to Jimmy, I couldn't think of a game where the Jets were robbed, or weren't fully rewarded for their efforts, and the law of averages suggested they were due sooner rather than later.

And as it turned out, one of the most lively and convincing halves they have produced this season was thwarted by some excellent goalkeeping from Dean Bouzanis, called up when Eugene Galekovic was injured in the warm-up, and some scrambling defence from a Melbourne City side who were given no time to find rhythm in the first half.

Maintaining the intensity required to provide that scenario over 90 minutes is very difficult, almost impossible, particularly when your depth is tested by injuries, and Melbourne City hung in, found a lifeline, and then grew into the match.

It would have stung that a penalty late in the first stanza provided the visitors with an unlikely recovery platform, and almost beyond belief that Manny Muscat would provide the fatal blow, from a stinging volley in the 86th minute.

With the greatest respect to City's fullback, that's a bit like bowling out Greenidge, Richards and Lloyd, only to have Courtney Walsh hit you for six, to provide the winning runs.

Three points from a possible nine, in what most would agree was a tough, testing run of fixtures, may well have the naysayers casting doubts over Newcastle’s capacity to maintain their early challenge. But there was enough, in contrasting ways, in the games against Sydney FC and the two Melbourne teams to reassure the squad they are where they deserve to be.

In the interests of providing you, dear reader, with some numbers to back up my feelings or impressions, I wandered, strictly for research purposes, into The Junction TAB, on Monday morning to take a Bo Peep! 

At the close of round nine, one-third of the way through the A-league season, the Jets are third favourites at $8 to win the grand final, behind Sydney FC who are $2.75 favourites, and Melbourne City at $6.

They are a “lucrative” $1.10 to make the top six, it’s $4 for Ernie Merrick’s men to contest the grand final with Sydney, and $11 about them winning the minor premiership.

Two things stand out from that little summary, the first being that the bold bookmakers at TAB headquarters can never be accused of generosity, and the second, that the experts are not dismissive of the Jets’ start to the season, nor are they expecting a huge decline in performance.

I've got to say that the odds on offer in those categories are a bit skinny for my liking. The $4.50 about Roy O'Donovan winning the leading scorer title, (still equal top, despite missing the past three games through injury) is perhaps the best way to prove your loyalty.

Doomsday theorists should keep buying their Spam and bottled water, and accept $51 about the Jets hitting the wall and taking the wooden spoon, if that thought makes them smile.

I almost wrote “patriotic” when talking about supporting O'Donovan, but should reserve that for the Socceroos and their Russian odyssey.

If you dare to believe the Aussies can top their group, you can get $15, (France obvious favourites at $1.30), but a more realistic and patriotic dabble at $5.25 to sneak through to the round of 16 may provide longer-lasting interest.

But I digress, unusual for me to get caught up in a sea of odds, in an ocean of categories!

In a lot of ways, as I suggested before the past three games, we learn from clashes with the so-called “big guns”, and the Jets are capable of matching it with those sides.

The Jets are capable of matching it with the A-League big guns.

My gut feeling (yes that is pretty large, and growing) is that the most important fixtures for the Jets will be the ones against obvious rivals for a top-four spot, like their next three opponents: Perth (away), Adelaide, and the Wanderers, both at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Six or seven points from those three games would provide the Jets with a terrific platform for the second half of the season, increase the buffer between themselves and those rivals for finals football, and lift confidence prior to tough away games at Melbourne Victory  and Sydney FC over the Christmas/New Year period.

The other factor to consider when assessing title contention is the upcoming January transfer window. A shrewd recruit here or there can transform some teams. 

There will be personnel changes at Melbourne City, and possibly also at Melbourne Victory. 

I will be surprised if Graham Arnold doesn't find someone with real pace to play in the front third for his title favourites, Sydney FC. 

There is talk of Bruce Djite and perhaps others coming in at Adelaide, and Perth coach Kenny Lowe has turned a few seasons around through business done in January.

The Jets don’t need to miss the boat. 

What they do need to do is focus strongly on the pre-Christmas period. 

Perth away is always a challenge. 

Three points there, and then three at home against a robust, improving Adelaide side, would be an enormous step towards a top-four finish. It all adds up.