16/04/2024

Newcastle narrowly avoided the wooden spoon after a disappointing 2020/21 season. Picture: Newcastle Jets Media

Despite a fantastic finale, Newcastle failed to score enough goals to avoid a bottom two finish in a disappointing 2020/21 A-League campaign.

Finishing position: 11th ( 21 points, five wins, six draws, 15 losses)

The highs

Two of the Jets’ five wins came at the end of the season as they went on an unbeaten run of three games, their second longest of the campaign.

Their best stretch came at the end of January as they managed to string together five unbeaten games, setting themselves up for what could have been a positive season, but it was ultimately not to be.

Of their five wins, two of them came against the best team in the league as they knocked off eventual Premiers Melbourne City both at home and away. The away result was undoubtedly the highlight of the season as the Jets claimed a dramatic 2-1 win, propelling themselves off the bottom of the table and avoiding the wooden spoon.

Perhaps the greatest resounding success Newcastle had all year was its defensive stability. Newcastle managed to concede just 38 goals, the seventh best in the league which, for a side that was rooted to the bottom two for the majority of the campaign, is nothing to sneer at.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley was a clear standout in defence, as he has been in the A-League for over a decade. The Jets were also able to blood a lot of young talent in 2021 which will stand them in good stead for the years to come.

The lows

Unfortunately, the 2021 season brought with it more lows than highs for Jets supporters as the side struggled to compete down the stretch of the A-League campaign.

They showed glimpses of quality in the above mentioned unbeaten streaks but for the most part, the Jets failed to pose a threat to the opposition, their record of only 24 goals scored was the worst in the league by a seven goal margin.

Veteran forward Roy O’Donovan was the top scorer with seven goals, four of which came from the penalty spot.

Valentino Yuel managed to find the net four times and youngster Apostolos Stamatelopolous scored three goals in his first season in a Jets shirt but overall, the Jets struggled to create chances, averaging less than a goal per game.

Their lowest ebb came in the form of a seven game losing streak in the middle of the season which all but confirmed they would miss out on finals football for another season.

A 4-1 drubbing at home at the hands of Adelaide United came in the middle of that run and was the most goals they conceded for the whole season in a single match.

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MVP

Like a fine wine, Nikolai Topor-Stanley seems to get better with age and his 2021 season is the perfect embodiment of exactly that.

The 36-year-old played every single minute for Jets this season and is a large part of the reason they avoided finishing in last position.

108 clearances, 78 per cent tackle success rate, 45 interceptions and over 75 per cent of aerial duels won are the numbers of a man that has proven any doubters over his remaining ability wrong.

The pace he possessed in his prime may not be there anymore but what Topor-Stanley does have is invaluable experience. After over a decade and a half in the league, he is a legend in his own right and to turn out week after week and perform the way he has this year is a credit to his work ethic.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed either, with his defensive prowess earning him both the A-League Player of the Year and Members’ A-League Player of the Year honours at the Newcastle Jets end of season awards night.

His partner in crime, Nigel Boogaard, has called time on his wonderful career but all signs point to Topor-Stanley going around again and there’s no doubt the Jets will be better for it.

Picture: @NewcastleJetsFC

Breakout player

Angus Thurgate and Connor O’Toole enjoyed successful individual seasons with both players solidifying their spot in the starting lineup after being in and out for the past few seasons.

Perhaps the name that Jets fans can hold the most hope for in the years to come is quite long and difficult to pronounce; Adelaide product Apostolos Stamatelopolous.

AP made the move to Newcastle after finding limited opportunities in a brief spell at Western United and in his first year with the Jets, managed to score three goals in 12 appearances.

Those that have been following his career since his days at Adelaide City in the NPL will know how much talent he possesses and this promise turned into results in 2021 as he forced his way into the starting 11 by the end of the season.

While he is yet to enjoy a free-scoring season in the A-League, Stamatelopolous endeared himself to Jets supporters in 2021 and will look to build on a promising start to his career in Newcastle.

Final word

2021 was largely a season to forget for the Jets and with a number of their key players reaching the back-end of their careers, it may be about to get worse before it gets better.

The squad has some young talent, there’s no doubt about it. Thurgate showed his quality this season and in AP they have found a goal-hungry young forward with a point to prove.

Defensively they were sound and only a fool would write off Nikolai Topor-Stanley after such an impressive campaign but the loss of captain Nigel Boogaard will be a tough one to stomach.

Their main issue this year was creating chances and it cost them largely. If the Jets produced going forward as much as they did on the defensive side we would be talking about them as one of the teams pushing for finals contention.

Still, in a league as even as the A-League, it only takes one or two players making that jump in quality from one season to the next to propel the side up the table.

Craig Deans has elected to step down as head coach of the side so the first piece of business needs to be hiring someone that can reinvigorate the side as the Jets seek to avoid the bottom half of the table in 2021/22.

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