Sydney striker Marc Janko is the A-League’s leading goal scorer.THE A-League’s hottest strike force arrives at Hunter Stadium on Friday night intent on applying the blowtorch to Newcastle’s new-found resilience.
The Jets have defended grimly in consecutive draws with Western Sydney, Wellington and Central Coast, but statistics suggest the challenge of keeping Sydney contained will be a whole new ball game.
In their past four outings, the Sky Blues have scored 15 goals, only one fewer than Newcastle have netted in all 19 outings this season.
Marquee striker Marc Janko (12) is the A-League’s leading goal scorer and, after the departures of Joel Griffiths, Jeronimo and Kew Jaliens, he has scored more goals on his own than the remaining Newcastle players combined.
The Austrian sniper has formidable support up front in Alex Brosque, Bernie Ibini and Shane Smeltz, who came off the bench in last week’s 4-3 win against Western Sydney.
Jets coach Phil Stubbins sounded almost envious when he discussed ‘‘a bag of riches in the front third they can choose from’’, labelling Sydney strong contenders for the A-League premiership.
‘‘They’re a very good side at the moment, probably close to title favourites,’’ Stubbins said.
‘‘The goals that they’ve scored in the last few games would suggest that they’re right up there as one of the favourites for the comp … obviously they’ve got some pressure on them to go all the way. They’ve certainly got the cattle there.’’
After a seven-game winless streak earlier in the season, during which they went more than six hours without a goal, Sydney have surged to fifth with three wins and a draw from their past four starts.
They are one point behind second-placed Melbourne Victory, Adelaide and Wellington, four points behind leaders Perth, and appear to be timing their run into the play-offs to perfection.
With 34 goals this season, Sydney have found the net more than twice as many times as Newcastle (16).
The Jets also have the worst defence in the league, having leaked 40 goals.
Since the 7-0 drubbing from Adelaide on January 24, after which three members of Stubbins’ coaching staff were sacked, five players were disenfranchised and another demanded a release, the Jets have belied fears that they might spend the rest of the season as easybeats.
‘‘The back line’s been strong, there’s no doubt about that,’’ Stubbins said.
The Jets, who have not beaten Sydney in more than two years, will be skippered on Friday for the first time by goalkeeper Ben Kennedy, after two-game captaincy stints from Taylor Regan and Jacob Pepper.
‘‘We’re all right behind Ben,’’ Stubbins said.
‘‘Obviously he’s a guy who’s Newcastle through and through.
‘‘He had a fantastic game against Sydney last time and hopefully he can replicate that and keep a clean sheet.’’