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The Lowedown: Former Socceroo David Lowe dissects the week in Newcastle Jets news

The Lowedown: Why I’m tipping the Jets to beat City TweetFacebook The Newcastle Jets last played Melbourne City on Sunday, April 1Photos: AAPIt’s fair to say I think, that most football fans in the Hunter have been hanging for April 27 for quite sometime, and it’s now just three sleeps away.
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OK, technically six if you’re my age, and have regular Nanna naps, but you get my drift.

There is no doubt going to be a large, and very vocal crowd, whose anticipation, whetted by seven years of finals absence, will be close to fever pitch.

Peel back that thick layer of excitement, and this is a game that both clubs have been preparing for with a deal of certainty, for about sixto eightweeks now.

Melbourne City have had the inside running for third spot for quite a while, and alongside the prospective ACL participation that position provides, deep down they fancy their chances more against Newcastle in a qualifying final, than they do against Sydney FC.

They have given themselves that opportunity, are the only team that the Jets haven’t beaten all season, and will lob into town with no shortage of confidence or belief.

From a Jets perspective, coach Ernie Merrick will have suspected for almost twomonths, if not longer, that Melbourne City would be their opponent on this day.

He was candid enough to admit that he was preparing for Melbourne City ahead of their match with Brisbane, at the club’s presentation night last Tuesday, so it’s fair to say that the tactical homework boxwill be well and truly ticked.

I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school by saying that Merrick was annoyed, or irked by what he termed as the “arrogance”of some City players, after beatingan injury-depleted Jets line-up 3-0 in round 25at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The affable Scot was quick to exclude his opposing mentor Warren Joyce, whom he described as an excellent coach, and a gentleman, from that criticism.

If there was enough there to cause Ernie to bristle, I’d imagine a number of Jets players carry similar recollections, and to be honest in post-match interviews on Friday night, it seemed to me couple of City players were looking too easily beyond this week’s game.

All of which adds to the “feeling”in this contest, which is how it should be at this crucial stage.

I’m going to agree wholeheartedly with Ernie here, and applaud the job done by Joyce at Melbourne City this year. Too often in the previous seasons, they have been a club lacking starch when the chips were down, a talented group of individuals, earning good coin, but without a team “soul”. Joyce has changed that dynamic.

He has dealt with some internal dissent, the Tim Cahill saga, kept a lid on Daniel Arzani, cajoled Luke Brattan into his best form and shape, stood firm with Ross McCormack, stayed patient with Bruno Fornaroli’s return, and recruited wisely in January. All with calm and consistent demeanour.

I suspect he will be aware that it will be almost a different crowd, a vastly different atmosphere on Friday night. He will have noted Merrick’s team selection last week, and the focus on mobility and pace.

He will know that the glaring physical advantage his team had over Brisbane Roar last weekwon’t be there this time, that this will be a real contest, and any complacency will be punished.

DANGER MAN: Melbourne City striker Bruno Fornaroli has scored nine goals in seven games against the Jets. Picture: AAP

His side is very settled. If Brattan is fit, his only real dilemma will be whether to restore skipper Michael Jakobsen to central defence after a slight injury concern, at the expense of Osama Malik.

City has a nice balance to their side, will play and defend on the front foot, as much as possible, and have a number of matchwinners.

I will be doing a more in-depth tactical analysis in Friday’s paper, so I don’t want to wander too intricately down that road today. Suffice to say that Vidosic and Bozanic have added to an already imposing roster, and a fresh Fornaroli, for mine, with the greatest respect to Bobo and Berisha, the most complete central striker in the league, is the icing on the cake.

Now if that sounds like I don’t give the Jets much hope, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

City may have won twice at McDonald Jones Stadium this season, but there were asterisks next to both results in my mind.

The most recent, the3-0 triumph on April 1, was notched against an under-strength, listless Jets, who had second position stitched up, and could move neither up nor down the ladder.

The Newcastle players, if they ever thought otherwise, learned that day that a Jets team short of enthusiasm, and low on intensity, would be easy pickings for the very talented teams, and I can’t see a repeat of that happening on Friday night.

The other game at this venue saw the Jets overpower, swamp,dominate – whatever appropriate adjective you like–City for almost the entire first half, before a soft goal and an unlikely Manny Muscat volley turned the match on its head.

Result aside, it was as well as the Jets have played all season, for 45to 60 minutes, and I am sure will be used as a reference point in video sessions this week, because on another day the Jets may have been three or four up at half-time.

Newcastle have missed Andrew Nabbout, no doubt, but have Roy O’Donovan back, Riley McGree adding goals and tactical flexibility, and the pace to worry the most organised of defences.

I reckon Merrick will take a chance on Nigel Boogaard, if he is anywhere close to fully fit. I’d risk one substitution to have my captain, best organiser, and excellent header of the ball, for the biggest game of the year.

Ronny Vargas and Pato Rodriguez, are likely to be most effective late in the game, and could be crucial assets off the bench.

Almost as crucial are you, dear reader, if you are attending the match. I can clearly remember pulsating atmospheres against Sydney FC and the then Queensland Roar at the old ISC, when the roof seemed destined to fly off. Both ended in triumph.

I sense this occasion could be bigger!

By the way, the following day Sydney FC play Melbourne Victory, to see who meets the Jets in the grand final! We can worry about that next week.

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