FORMER Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond sees “a lot of similarities” between this season’s team and his 2007-08 championship-winning outfit.
Newcastle are flying high in second place, trailing only runaway leaders Sydney, after racking up their ninth win of the season with a 2-0 triumph against Central Coast on Tuesday night.
It has been their best start to any season since their grand final win a decade ago, and Jets fans are eagerly anticipating the prospect of being involved in the finals for the first time in eight years.
Van Egmond said all teams should be assessed “on their results at the end of the season”, and Newcastle’s current side “have their own identity and deserve to be judged on their own merits”.
But he saw some common traits shared by the Jets he coached and Ernie Merrick’s 2017-18 counterparts.
“There are certainly a lot of similarities,” van Egmond told the Newcastle Herald.
“I suppose the main characteristic this year’s team have in common with 2007-08 is the goalscorers they have in the front four.
“In our team, Joel [Griffiths] had a stellar season and scored a lot of goals, but we also had a support cast of Mark Bridge, Matt Thompson and James Holland who scored important goals for us, too. This year they’ve got people sharing the goals, like [Dimi] Petratos, [Andrew] Nabbout and young [Joey] Champness.
“[Pato] Rodriguez showed some quality in his cameo against the Mariners, and you’ve still got [Roy] O’Donovan and [Ronny] Vargas to come back from injury. So they’ve got a number of scoring options and that always gives you a chance to win games.”
Van Egmond admitted Newcastle may even have “more depth” up front this season than they did in 2007-08.
In defence, he said incumbent stoppers Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Nigel Boogaard had “a similar presence” to Jade North and Andrew Durante, who provided Newcastle with a rock-solid last line in their championship campaign.
To emulate the club’s 2007-08 heroics, Newcastle will in all likelihood need to defeat defending champions Sydney, who have lost only two of their past 44 games, dating back to the start of last season.
Van Egmond had no doubt Sydney were beatable.
“Sydney are a very good team, but I don’t think they’re unbeatable, not at all,” van Egmond said.
“They have some flaws in their game, especially in transition on the counter-attack. They can be vulnerable, and Newcastle showed that last week [in a 2-all draw at Allinaz Stadium].”
Van Egmond, who was appointed Football NSW’s head of elite development and education in September, said he was delighted to see the Jets in such healthy shape.
“It’s not just the first-grade [A-League] team, the W-League and youth league are also doing well, as is the academy,” he said.
“They’ve got people in key positions who understand football, and for the first time they have a real chance to build a club that can deliver long-term success.
“The people I am happiest for are the fans, who have been there through thick and thin and keep turning up each week.”
Former Newcastle director of football Remo Nogarotto, who was largely responsible for assembling Newcastle’s championship squad, said Merrick’s men were the “real deal”.
“This is a seriously good football team,” he said.
“It has the mettle, it has the talent, it has the coaching staff, it has the front office and it has the owner.
“They are the five key elements you need in any successful football club.”
Nogarotto said the Jets, the incumbent wooden spooners, should not be judged solely on this season’s results.
“I think we should measure them on what they are likely to do over a three-year period and there is every reason to suggest they will be able to do what we achieved from 2005-08,” he said.
“Will Ernie be able to do over three years what we did with the team we assembled in year one? There is every reason to suggest the answer to that is yes.”