02/03/2024

The Newcastle Jets players celebrating a win with their fans (Image: Newcastle Jets; Design: Will Cuckson)

Despite a promising first season under Arthur Papas, the Newcastle Jets could not translate their progress into a finals appearance.

The Newcastle Jets entered season 2021/22 with a brand new coach in Arthur Papas and his exciting system, but with familiar constraints and the reality of being a football club still searching for stable ownership.

After a disappointing 2020/21 and the releases of John Koutroumbis, Connor O’Toole, James Donachie, and Lewis Italiano, incoming coach Arthur Papas had his hands full rebuilding a Jets side that narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in the final week of the last campaign.

The Jets signed a plethora of players in the offseason, poaching Jordan Elsey, Mohamed Al-Taay, Riley Warland, and Dane Ingham from A-Leagues rivals while Olivier Boumal, Beka Mikeltadze, Daniel Penha, Samuel Silvera, Dylan Murnane, and Matt Jurman joined from overseas. Veteran defender Taylor Regan rejoined the Jets during the middle of the for his swansong.

Cam Devlin was a huge coup for the Newcastle Jets, signing from the Wellington Phoenix in the offseason, but unfortunately, Scottish side Heart of Midlothian came knocking with an irresistible opportunity before the midfielder even made an appearance for the club.

The Highs

You don’t receive the nickname “Box Office” for nothing, and the Jets more than lived up to that moniker in season 2021/22. Despite finishing ninth, Newcastle was one of the most watchable sides in the league while also possessing the third most potent attack in the League, recording 45 goals in 26 games, behind Premiers Melbourne and F3 rivals and finalists Central Coast.

After a painful 2020/21 season, Arthur Papas brought the excitement back to the Hunter Valley, with McDonald Jones Stadium once again becoming a happy hunting ground for the Novocastrians. Jets fans made their way to the ground expecting exciting football and goals, and that is exactly what they got, with their side recording three booming wins at home, defeating the Wellington Phoenix 4-0 on two separate occasions and putting the Glory to shame with a 6-1 score line.

Newcastle also seemed to have the wood over traditional powerhouse Sydney FC, with its season only kicking into gear after a spirited comeback which resulted in it coming back from two goals down in Round 3 to steal a point off the previous season’s grand finalists.

Months later, with the Sky Blues fighting to make the finals, Jets youngster Archie Goodwin hit them hard and fast, scoring twice in three minutes to help his side to a satisfying win.

Finally, despite a disappointing end to the season, the Jets managed to do what they could not in their previous campaign by winning an Australia Cup playoff match. Qualifying for the competition gives Arthur Papas’ side a real opportunity to challenge for silverware.

The Lows

After a tough year, being labelled the league’s “Entertainers” was a positive initial step, but as the year went on it was one that stuck. The nickname said as much for Newcastle’s offence as it did its defence and it became costly.

Despite their high-scoring ways, the Jets were not a challenging side to break down, conceding 43 goals in 26 games, the fourth-most in the competition. When you concede in such high frequency, accumulating points and challenging for silverware becomes an insurmountable challenge.

What was disappointing for the Jets fans was that even though they looked competitive against the top sides of the competition, they stumbled too often in spots that they should not have and it led to them being spectators once again at the pointy end of the season.

Out of several disappointing losses, allowing bitter rivals Central Coast Mariners to complete its first-ever F3 Derby sweep hurt the most. The Mariners faced the Jets three times and collected the maximum nine points while putting eight goals past their rivals, the difference-maker in pursuit of finals.

The defensive frailties could have been lessened with the presence of a combative defensive midfielder. Arthur Papas thought he had his man in Cam Devlin but losing him to Hearts before the Season started created a hole ahead of a shaky defence that was never adequately plugged.

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MVP

The A-League Men’s competition has historically been hit and miss when it comes to its visa players, but the Jets got two of their spots correct this season with both players having a strong argument to make for the MVP title. Unsurprisingly, both Daniel Penha and Beka Mikeltadze excelled as offensive players and were a major factor in the Jets’ high-scoring way, truly a box office combination.

Penha was one of the outstanding players in the league, crucially, he made the players around him better. Penha led the league in assists with 11, while also recording 2.7 key passes per game to go along with his four goals, impressive statics even though the Brazilian missed three games.

Mikeltadze is a natural goal scorer, the fact is evident when the Georgian impressively pushed Melbourne City’s Jamie Maclaren to the final day for the Golden Boot award. He recorded 13 goals along with three assists, but similarly to Penha, Mikeltadze thrives off bringing the best out of his teammates and can often be found dropping deep to pick up the ball while supporting the midfield effort in times of need.

Breakout Player

A bleak 2020/21 season ended with a light at the end of the tunnel for the Jets, with teenage sensation Archie Goodwin being introduced in the last few games and making an instant impact. Unfortunately, despite season 2021/22 beginning in November, Goodwin was not sighted until late March.

The reason behind Goodwin’s absences was growing pains, literal, not metaphorical. At just 17, Goodwin had to face the challenging task of being physically ready for a professional football competition while growing into his adult body, it has not been an easy process but a year after his introduction to professional football, it was definitely worth the wait.

Goodwin reminded the football public just why there is so much excitement surrounding his name by putting Sydney FC to the sword in its visit to the Hunter Valley. His season ended with success, coming off the bench in Newcastle’s Australia Cup playoff against Perth and making an instant impact by scoring within seconds and putting the result beyond any doubt.

Goodwin only appeared in eight matches with only a solitary start and on heavily restricted minutes for obvious reasons. This late-season resurgence will undoubtedly be treated as an extra preseason for a young star that is poised to make an impact in season 2022/23.

The Final Word

Box office movies do not spring out of thin air, time and effort go into their creation off-screen and on-screen narratives. Before the heroes succeed, they face difficulties and overcome them to better themselves, this is commonly referred to as character development.

When compared to the campaign before it, season 2021/22 was a positive one for the Jets, but it was accompanied by its fair share of harsh character development. Despite the positive inroads, Newcastle was often self-destructive and missed finals while it still finds itself without stable ownership.

On the positive side, Arthur Papas is an exciting young coach committed to the project after recently signing a two-year extension. His side may have been easily breached in season 2021/22 but it did just as much damage going forward.

As time goes on, Papas will have the luxury of stamping his authority on the squad even further when it comes to personnel and tactics; regardless of the off-field uncertainty, the Jets are moving in the right direction on it.

There is still a long way until the Jets reach their own “happily ever after” but every story needs a beginning, and if the Jets’ rebirth in season 2021/22 is anything to go by, strap yourselves in because win, lose or draw, it is going to be a rollercoaster.

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