Lowe: Wellington loss will make us stronger

ANYONE who has ever had a bet, and listened to a wise, after-the-fact race caller
state calmly ‘forget it ever went around’ will know how annoying it is.

ANYONE who has ever had a bet, and listened to a wise, after-the-fact race caller state calmly “forget it ever went around” will know how annoying it is.

An aching feeling in the pit of your stomach, a handful of useless confetti, the prospect of a long wait until pay day, and then some sanctimonious broadcaster telling you to just delete it from your memory.

At the risk of falling into that category: Jets fans, forget the team ever went around on Saturday in Wellington.

Like a dry-tracker on a heavy (10), like the Poms on a WACA Ground green top, like the Storm or Broncos at Origin time, the prospects of victory were very slim.

It was like Manchester United, or was it Arsenal, sending a team containing only one first-team regular to hapless West Ham for a League Cup fixture and losing 4-0.

You can be sure the other 10 were very decent, talented footballers, but the step up en masse to the highest level is very difficult.

It’s what made the midweek victory against the Gold Coast so important, because the unavailable count continued to mount as the match went on.

Jets coach Branko Culina knew immediately after the Gold Coast game that he would need something akin to a miracle to get points in Wellington.

When Newcastle Herald scribe Josh Leeson rang me on Thursday and asked for my A-League tips, I hesitated before tipping a draw in the match. My employment status at the club swayed my decision over the cold, hard reality.

Wellington is a difficult place to eke out a result at the best of times. Minus five first-team regulars, including almost your entire first-choice midfield, the task is all but impossible.

The squad itself won’t lose too much sleep or confidence over the weekend’s events, and in some ways it will help their overall season.

If you push results to one side, and examine the effects of the weekend on Wellington and Melbourne Victory in comparison to the Jets, you will see why.

The Phoenix won a game they were entitled to, but lost their main man Paul Ifill to a possibly serious knee injury.

That does not help their chances of challenging for the top six.

The Victory beat Perth, as you would expect, but have lost their talismanic livewire Archie Thompson with a hamstring strain and have Carlos Hernandez carrying an ankle injury.

Thompson will almost certainly miss the game against the Jets on December 27, and although the Victory have good depth, there’s only one Archie.

Hernandez may be fit and he’s a terrific player full stop, but he is even more effective when Thompson is on deck.

The Jets have lost an almost unwinnable game given the circumstances, and will welcome back Ljubo Milicevic, Kasey Wehrman, Jobe Wheelhouse and Ruben Zadkovich.

Wehrman in particular has been very important for the Jets and at 34 will find the 10-day freshen-up suspension has afforded him of great value.

Let’s not forget the effort of the team with 10 men for 85 minutes against the Heart, and again for the final 15 minutes against the Gold Coast, when assessing a possible fatigue factor across the board.

Let’s not forget either that the Melbourne Heart team that 10 men denied just 13 days ago have since gone to Adelaide and beaten the Reds.

Milicevic will be back as ebullient and imposing as ever, and fresher. Wheelhouse will be champing at the bit to taste the heat of battle, and a week-and-a-half of rest will be better for Zadkovich’s injured back than two long flights and 90 minutes of graft in an understrength midfield.

So dear Jets fans, there is no reason for panic.

The wheels have not fallen off and hopefully normal service will resume on Monday at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

But don’t think this game will be a walk in the park for either side – it has all the hallmarks of being a classic stoush.

Both teams have aspirations of sneaking into the top four and securing a home final, and three points for either would be a significant step in the right direction.

I still believe the trek to play the Victory in Melbourne is the litmus test for how your team are travelling.

There you play a team with pace, style, skill and no shortage of passion and grunt. Factor in a large, bullish and buoyant holiday crowd, and you have conditions that provide a stern examination.

Throw in the proximity of the sides on the league ladder, and I’ll be surprised if this isn’t a thriller.

Let’s hope we can find a referee who can keep the game 11 versus 11 for 90 minutes.

Unless of course one of those dastardly thuggish brutes, Messrs Muscat, Leijer, Vargas or Brebner keeps transgressing.

Just joking boys – Merry Christmas, Ernie!

For about the 10th consecutive year since I promised ex-Newcastle Breakers gear steward and team manager Michael Wagstaff I wouldn’t ever write a Christmas wish-list or a new year’s crystal ball-type column, I resist the temptation.

I do, however, invite you to consider how Asian Cup selection may influence the destiny of A-League clubs this season.

The non-selection of any Newcastle players, bar the injured Ben Kantarovski, in the 50-man preliminary squad, is a slight slap in the face for some but a possible blessing for the team.

Gold Coast will lose Jason Culina and possibly Michael Thwaite.

Brisbane have three in the squad and Matt McKay is their most likely representative.

Adelaide could lose goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic, and Victory could possibly lose Thompson or Robbie Kruse.

Heaven help Sydney if Alex Brosque makes Holger Osieck’s final 23, and ditto North Queensland to a slightly lesser extent if David Williams is a surprise selection.

Ryan Griffiths, due to start playing for the Jets next month, was named in the squad but lack of recent games will hinder his prospects.

Another bloke who has not had a run for 12 months is due to appear on Saturday.

Hope he is good to you and yours. Party well, stay safe and enjoy your nearest and dearest.