Central Coast Mariners welcomed Newcastle Jets at the Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford on 24th July. Newcastle Jets were confident coming into this match after defeating the A-league premiership winners of the season, Sydney FC, in the previous match. They were looking for a position in the finals series while Central Coast Mariners, with their defeat to Perth Glory in their previous game, extended their losing streak to 11 matches. They were also looking to take maximum points from the F3 derby’s third instalment.
Central Coast Mariners were positioned last in the league table and the Jets were positioned eighth in the table coming into the match. The match ended in a stalemate, hitting the hopes of Newcastle Jets’ final series position. This tactical analysis will look into the tactics employed by both the teams in the match and provide an analysis of the game.
Central Coast Mariners lined up in a 4-2-2-2 formation with Mark Birighitti between the sticks. The back-four line made up of Jack Clisby, Kye Rowles, Dylan Fox, and Ziggy Gordon. The midfield was made up of Daniel De Silva, Jacob Melling, Gianni Stensness, and Milan Duric. De Silva and Duric were forming the attacking midfielders’ line of two and Melling with Stensness formed the CDM’s line. Leading the attack from the front were Alou Kuol and Samuel Silvera.
Newcastle Jets lined up in a 5-4-1 formation but often shifted to 3-4-3 formation similar to Dortmund of the Bundesliga. Under Carl Robinson, the Jets have frequently used the 3-4-3 formation this season. In this match, Lewis Italiano was between the sticks. The back-five line made up of Matthew Millar, John Koutroumbis, Nigel Boogard, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, and Connor O’Toole. Midfield line of four consisted of Bernie Ibini-Isei, Steven Ugarkovic, Angus Thurgate, and Nicholas Fitzgerald. Ray O’Donovan, a former player of Sunderland FC when the club was in the EPL, led the attack from the front.
4-2-2-2 defending by Central Coast Mariners
Alen Stajcic, former coach of the Matildas, hasn’t had much success in this season with the Mariners with only four wins throughout the season. In this game, he employed a rather uncanny defensive structure of 4-2-2-2. This formation was used to avoid the attack from the centre of the pitch. The attacking midfielders’ line of two would mark the CDMs of Newcastle Jets to stop the ball progression from the centre. Both teams used full-backs to provide width as the full-backs of the Mariners would mark the full-backs of the Jets. This is shown in the instance below.
The attacking midfielders of the Mariners, Duric and De Silva marked in red, are marking the CDMs of the Jets, Ugarkovic and Thurgate marked in yellow. While on the far side we can observe the full-back Clisby, in white, pressuring Millar, marked in green. This also has an adverse effect which is that it increases the space between the centre-back and the full-back on the respective flank. It will be covered in the next section while discussing the instances of Newcastle Jets’ attack. In the below instance, we can notice the whole defensive structure of Central Coast Mariners.
Melling and Stensness formed the CDMs’ line while the other forward is out of the picture. Often the forwards of the Mariners would try to press high when the play would start from the goalie of the Jets. The catch here was that there would always be a 3 v 2 situation created as there would be three centre-backs of the Jets being pressured by two forwards of the Mariners. An instance is shown below.
There is a 3 v 2 situation created. To counter this and restrict the ball progression further, one of the attacking midfielders, usually De Silva, would step up and create a forward line of three. Following this, one of the CDMs, Melling or Stensness, would step up to mark the opposition CDMs. The following instance would give a clear picture.
One of the attacking midfielders, marked in yellow, has stepped up to create a front three line to pressurise the three centre-backs of the opposition. While one of the CDMs, Melling, marked in green, is stepping up to mark the CDM of the Jets, Ugarkovic. We can also notice that the full-back, Gordon marked in white, is marking the full-back of the Jets.
Attacking strategy of the Newcastle Jets
Newcastle Jets used their full-backs to provide width since most of their attacks came from the wings. And as stated in the above section, the Mariners used their full-backs to mark the Jets’ full-backs. This created a gap in the defence of the Mariner, between the centre-back and full-back, which was exploited by the Newcastle Jets. The front line of Newcastle Jets consisted of three strikers usually- Fitzgerald, O’Donovan, and Ibini-Isei. When the ball was passed to any of the flanks, the respective wide forward that is either Fitzgerald or Ibini-Isei would come down the pitch for easy regulation of the ball. This would also help in overlapping runs by the full-backs. An example is shown below.
Koutroumbis, centre-back of the Jets marked in green, is the ball carrier and has two options in front of him. Either to the full-back, Millar, or Ibini-Isei, marked in red, who has come down the pitch to receive the pass while Fitzgerald is up front as a second striker beside Roy O’Donovan. Similarly, when the ball would be on the left flank, Fitzgerald would drop deep and allow the full-back to overlap and provide width as shown below.
Fitzgerald, marked in red, has come down the pitch and making way for the full-back to overlap and provide width. While Ibini-Isei, marked in yellow, is the second striker besides O’Donovan. Now, how do Jets benefit from this move? When any one of the forwards comes down the pitch into the midfield area, it creates a numerical superiority in the otherwise 2 v 2 midfield, thus creating a passing option in the midfield. Also, Ibini-Isei in the following instance plays a through ball right into the gap for the full-back Millar, which indicates the creativity of the forwards in the midfield area.
Here, Ibini-Isei in red has come down the pitch to receive the pass, and Millar, marked in yellow is making a run. Here the full-back of the Mariners, Clisby in green, is out of position and pressuring Ibini-Isei. The centre-back Rowles steps out to mark the full-back of the opposition. Ibini-Isei strings a pass right through the gap for Millar and the attack continues as shown below.
Notice the gap between the centre-backs – the defensive line is completely stretched. Another variation used in the attack by the Jets is when the forwards are wider on the wings and the full-backs make an overlapping run in the half-space. We can see this in the instance below.
Again, Ibini-Isei, marked in red, is stretching the defence line by attracting the full-back Clisby out and opening space between the centre-back and full-back for Millar, marked in green, to occupy and exploit. Millar makes a run in the half-space and gets the pass to continue the attack. Also, notice that the CDM of the Mariners, Stensness, is trying to cover for the gap. Newcastle Jets made 43 attacks out of which 23 came from the right flank owing to the Ibini-Isei and Millar pair.
Full-backs of Newcastle Jets
The Jets’ right full-back Millar, had played exceptionally in this game. In providing the width and support up front, he has also defended well in crucial situations. Central Coast Mariners sat back and defended but when they got the chance they switched to the counter-attack mode. One such encounter is shown below. Newcastle Jets lose the ball in the creative region and the counter-attack starts. Notice the position of Millar, marked in red, on the right flank.
De Silva, in green, passes the ball to Duric, in yellow, to continue the attack. In the next instance, we can observe that Millar has tackled and won the ball back. This indicates his ability to break the counter-attacks.
Circled, Milar has tackled and won the ball back in the midfield. Not only this but a few seconds later, he is also involved in the counter-attack of the Jets. Another instance of the left full-back of the Jets, O’Toole is shown below. This signifies the positioning of the full-backs. While one of the full-backs is providing width the other full-back shifts inside and adds to the attacking threat. One of the examples is as shown.
Here, Ibini-Isei plays an overhead pass at the edge of the box. Observe the position of full-back O’Toole, in red. He is near the centre of the pitch. He took the shot but could not score. When the ball would be with one of the full-backs, the other shifts inside and provides support to the attack. Both the full-backs were exceptional in this game with their constant movement and exploiting gaps in the defence.
Newcastle Jets enjoyed more possession with 64% while Central Coast Mariners sat back and defended for the most of the match though some of the names such as Kuol, who was a debutant in this match, shined. The Jets were more attacking but could not convert the chances they got. With this stalemate, Newcastle Jets are currently positioned eighth in the table with two games remaining and the hope for a berth in the finals series looks bleak.