Labinot Haliti is poised to start his first A-League game in more than a year when the Newcastle Jets try to overcome their woeful record against Sydney FC at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
Haliti has played twice off the bench since suffering a serious knee injury playing against the Sky Blues in October last year, but he is in line to replace injured striker Morten Nordstrand this weekend.
The 31-year-old scored a fine individual goal in the youth team’s 2-2 draw with the Central Coast last weekend, showing great feet on the edge of the box before driving home a low shot.
The Jets will need more of the same on Sunday. They have not beaten Sydney in their past 11 meetings, stretching back to a 2-1 win at home on December 12, 2012.
They have a solitary draw in 2014 to show from their past 10 encounters with Sydney and have scored in only one of those games, a 4-3 loss at home in early 2015.
And their winning percentage against Graham Arnold’s side (16.67 per cent) is their lowest against any of their nine rivals. Their highest success rates are against Melbourne City (42) and Melbourne Victory (41).
Sydney started the season with six straight wins but have gone off the boil slightly in the past fortnight, drawing with Brisbane and Adelaide and losing the FFA Cup final 1-0 to City on Wednesday.
Jets coach Mark Jones said on Friday that he did not expect that defeat to influence Sydney, but he hoped the midweek game would leave them with heavy legs.
“I think if we want to be a top-six side, then you have to be able to play against the best teams in the country,” he said.
“Sydney FC, whether they win or lose in the cup final, is not relevant. They’re a good team. They’ve scored 18 goals for and three against, so the stats say they’re the best team in the league.
“It’s difficult to play against, but hopefully a little bit of fatigue sets in and that gives us an opportunity to play good football against them.”
Jones said Danish import Nordstrand, who has scored once in seven games, “might not play” due to a hip flexor problem that left him on the sidelines in the second half of last week’s 2-0 loss to Victory.
The injury-ravaged Jets are eighth, level on points with Wellington, who have a game in hand, and above winless defending champions Adelaide. They lost 2-0 to Sydney at home a month ago, conceding goals to Alex Brosque and Milos Ninkovic.
The youth team host Sydney at Magic Park at 4pm on Saturday.