SLOWnews weekend? Same old stories? If I was in TV news I’d go for a happy local story, you know like Ivor Goodarm winning his ninth consecutive cow-pat throwing contest at the Dungog Show.
The Jets’ clash with Sydney FC produced a theme and result so familiar to Newcastlefans they could have written the script last week with minimal research.
Fortunately the little warrior “Aussie’’Ali Abbas provided everyone with the “against-all-odds’’fairytale finish that sporting fans relish, and respond to so eagerly.
It had taken him 405 days to recover from a career-threatening knee injury and the Sydney fans gave the little Iraqi a standing ovation when he took the field as a second-half substitute. And I’m sure every fair-minded Jets supporter would havebeen on their feet in unison.
Those fortunate enough to have spent time with Abbas in his tenure at Newcastle will recall a player with great heart, and infectious enthusiasm for the game, and life itself, and a cheeky and irreverent nature that made him instantly likeable.
They will also remember his willingness to dribble, be positive and brave when one-one-oneopportunities presented, and his almost childlike delight in scoring goals.
If, as Fox commentator Brenton Speed observed, ‘’the hairs on the back of your neck were standing up’’when he entered the game, you would have been encouraged by his busy and proactive approach, no tentative dipping of toes for Ali, and when his big moment arrived, and he finished the Jets’ slim chances of a recovery, I defy any true football fan not having to blink away a tear or two.
There was a moment, when the little Iraqi steadied as he collected Matt Simon’s back-heeled return pass, time stood still for a second, collective breaths were held, and then “Bassy’’stroked it past Mark Birighitti in the Jets goal, and released a torrent of emotion.If you backed a 1-0 Sydney victory, or are an extremely optimistic Jets fan, you would have been temporarily deflated. But for everyone who has played the game, and be it through age or injury, no longer really can, this was a moment to take you back to the joys of the game, and youthful vitality. Uplifting in the extreme.
Unfortunately the Jets’ performance sits at the other end of the scale, right next to whatever it is that neutralises uplifting. Uninspiring, dross, choose your own word, but you get the drift.
A generously designated fiveshots at goal, with none on target, tells the tale of the threat, or lack thereof, they posed to Sydney’s goal on Saturday evening.
And let’s be brutally honest.Sydney were hardly in vintage nick either. Minus the quality of their most important player, Alex Brosque, and the pace and understanding of their left-sided Olyroo combination of Alex Gersbach and Andrew Hoole, they still had minimal trouble accounting for the Jets.
Much has been made of the Jets’ 559 minutes without a goal –that’s six matches plus, and counting –but believe me that run will come to an end some time soon.
Of more concern in my eyes is the amount of time and comfort afforded to Sydney’s key midfield players, particularly if you have a predetermined plan to defend with depth and numbers.
Milos Ninkovic is a very silky, talented No.10, but he was allowed to put on a clinic in the first 60 minutes.
Mickael Taveres, a very competent midfield anchor, but no Andrea Pirlo, completed over 60 passes witha 100 per cent success rate, and for a team defending deep and narrow, and hoping for some joy on the counter, this figure is probably the most discouraging of all.
It suggests the team is struggling to find the intensity required to make what seemed a fairly solid structure early seasoneffective at present. As intensity drops the team becomes reactive, and instantly more defensive to protect their goal.
No turnovers or steals in midfield, no springboard to launch counter-attacks, fewer chances, and further to travel to score.Who could have predicted that a club with very limited depth, a base squad of about 14 or 15, and needing to play at close to 100 per cent intensity to compete every weekwould start to drop away after nineor 10 games?
I’m sure Jets coach Scott Miller has received a multitude of suggested solutions in recent weeks, some more forceful than others. I’m also sure most won’t be crossing his mind for the first time.
Many want to point the finger at individual players, but seldom are one or two to blame for a lean run lasting 10 games. And realistically who is beating the door down, demanding inclusion in the starting eleven?
“Freshen the side up,’’ you say. Easier said than done, and with winnable home games against Wellington and Perth coming up on consecutive Sundays, you’d be hoping your best team could conjure up two victories.“Change the system,play four-four-two,”might be worth a try, but will still be reliant on the physical condition of your starting side.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Sydney’s Ali Abbas scored a goal against his former club in his comeback from knee surgery. Picture: Getty Images
Maybe Miller will be tempted to give the team a very “easy”week, recharge some batteries and trust that the energy conserved through the week will burst to the surface against a Wellington side, hampered by injury, and having had a very physically taxing match with Brisbane on Sunday.
Hopefully Miller and his staff can pull the right rein for the upcoming home matches, otherwise we may again, unfortunately, be talking about the prospects of another spoon.