Melbourne Victory return to their unhappiest hunting ground on Thursday as their hosts Newcastle Jets aim to relaunch after a blip on the radar.
Victory have won just three times at McDonald Jones Stadium and must overcome historical road blocks if they are to claim their second win of the season and build momentum.
They finally displayed the level of football they should be playing on Sunday when they comfortably saw of Perth Glory in a 2-0 win at nib Stadium thanks to Leroy George and Besart Berisha.
Sydney FC brought Newcastle back down to earth last week, but they were hardly disgraced and came close to salvaging 2-2 a draw after the interval.
A Roy O’Donovan-sized hole appeared for the Jets in that game thanks to a late injury, and one has to wonder how they would have fared had he been involved.
Unfortunately for them, that gap will remain on Thursday.
Bad news for Newcastle Jets. Roy O’Donovan to miss 4⃣ matches with a groin injury. #ALeague
Source: AAP pic.twitter.com/gbxLBmQVTf
— Daily Football Show (@DFS_AUS) November 22, 2017
Key Battle – Daniel Georgievski vs Leroy George
Should Georgievski start, he will have the daunting task of matching up on George and former teammate Jai Ingham, who will switch sides throughout the match.
That is a ploy Georgievski will be all too familiar with having spent three years under Kevin Muscat’s tutelage.
But he is still finding his feet on the back of an injury and returned earlier than expected, seeing out 45 minutes against Sydney.
Both George and Ingham – not least George, in fine form – will be eager to test out Georgievski’s hamstring and get a toehold on the wing early.
Newcastle have been hit by two major blows, with Jack Duncan and O’Donovan ruled out. The extent of Duncan’s foot injury is unknown, but O’Donovan will miss three to four weeks with a grade one adductor tear. Glen Moss, Mario Shabow, Wayne Brown and Kosta Petratos have all been included in Ernie Merrick’s extended squad. The Scotsman could shuffle the decks tactically after a slow start against Sydney.
Newcastle Jets Expected XI (4-3-3): Moss; Georgievski, Topor-Stanley, Boogaard, Vujica; Kantarovski, Ugarkovic, Brown; Petratos, Nabbout, Champness.
Kosta Barbarouses returns for Victory after a mammoth fortnight on the international front. However, given Ingham’s performance in Perth, the Kiwi is no guarantee to start. Young attacking-midfielder Josh Hope has also been added with two players to be cut.
Melbourne Victory Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Thomas; Geria, Deng, Williams, Broxham; Valeri, Milligan; Troisi, Ingham, George; Berisha.
Newcastle nudge this fixture, boasting 14 wins to Victory’s 13. There have been another nine draws in the 36 meetings.
These sides last met in February in the Hunter. The match was rescheduled from its original date due to extreme heat. When it eventually was played, it proved a dour 0-0 draw.
The Jets showed vulnerability against Sydney minus O’Donovan, exposing something of a lack of depth in the forward areas. With lessons learned, it will be intriguing to see how Merrick adjusts and what, if anything, he changes. Even without their star man, Newcastle should not be underestimated; they are in the position they are in for a reason. Victory looked to have finally clicked into gear with a sense of continuity, and for them, the visit to a tough venue has come at the right time.
Newcastle Jets 1 Melbourne Victory 2