Saturday, September 26, 2009


Losing Their Griff

For the second successive week, the Newcastle Jets have been beaten by the odd goal in a game which they ostensibly dominated. For this viewer, there were echoes of an Olympic v. Parramatta game I watched in late 2000, with Branko Culina in charge of the former club: Olympic played all the attractive football, with Nick Carle and Greg Owens to the fore, but were undone by two typical striker's goals from the Power's experienced Scotsman Joe Miller.

There were even stronger echoes of the Jets' brief period under Nick Theodorakopoulos, at the beginning of the 2006/07 season. They won plenty of points for style, but few points on the competition table. There was no lack of elegant play in midfield, especially from the aforementioned Carle, but the final touch was lacking.

Last night, all the pleasing skills of Kaz Patafta, the quick feet and movement of Song Jin-Hyung, and the thoughtful promptings of Fabio Vignaroli went to waste in the final third. The former two worked themselves into shooting positions once or twice, but froze at the trigger. Ali Abbas produced a couple of bright moments and then lapsed into the background, although credit is due to David Mitchell for a canny tactical change which helped to nullify the tricky Iraqi: Scott Neville's fresh legs at right-back were just what Perth needed.

The sad truth is that the Jets are yet to recover from the loss of Joel Griffiths. Without him in 2007/08, not only would they never have won the competition, they would probably have failed to make the finals, so immense was his contribution. Significantly, Griffiths (like Shane Smeltz) is not the kind of striker who has to "rely" heavily on the midfield creating something for him; at A-League level, he was capable of crafting chances all on his own.

Newcastle's much-lauded midfield may look the part, but they haven't yet shown a real capacity to do what a matured Carle did so effectively in 2006/07; namely, to supply the forward line on a regular basis. Even Song Jin-Hyung, somewhat over-rated by many, offers genuinely incisive play only in patches.

Culina is targeting former Sydney FC (and Leeds United) striker Michael Bridges, who could indeed be an ideal man to make things click. Ironically, Bridges made his debut for Sydney in their first game following Culina's departure, a 3-2 win over the Mariners in late 2007. This time, Culina is no doubt hoping he can secure the services of the Englishman before he is booted from the dugout.

In the meantime, it would be heartening to see the likes of Patafta, Song et al. undergo the same subtle process of improvement that Nick Carle appeared to undergo during the A-League's second season: from uncorking a number of pretty moves to really making them count.

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