If you ask anyone in the Yellow Fever, they’ll tell you that the Phoenix have traditionally been very dominant over the Newcastle Jets. At first glance, the overall record between the two sides seems to back that argument up.
In the 23 games between played between Wellington and Newcastle in the league, the Phoenix have won 14 games, the Jets have won 6 and there have been 3 draws. This is a better winning percentage for the Phoenix than against any other team, at 60% against. The best winning record for the Phoenix was against the now defunct North Queensland Fury, with 3 wins out of 6 games resulting in a winning percentage of 50%. By contrast, the team that the Phoenix have the worst record against is Brisbane Roar, with just two wins out of the 21 matches against them, or 9%.
The stats get even better when you just look at the games played at Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium. With 5 wins in 10 matches, the Hunter Stadium is the most successful stadium in the entire league for the Phoenix, even more so than Westpac Stadium. The Nix have won 45% of their matches at Westpac Stadium. All of these stats suggests that the Phoenix do have a competitive edge over the Jets, however there’s one more area that could be having an effect.
The FFA make no attempt to make the fixture list for the league ‘balanced’, i.e. all teams play the other teams once in the first 9 rounds, then once again in the next 9 rounds, then for the final time in the final 9 rounds. What we have instead is a system where teams can sometimes face one side three times before they face another team for the first time in a season. Take Adelaide last year for example. Adelaide had a very shaky start to the season last year, picking up just 6 points in their first 9 games. However they then picked up 15 points in their next 7 games and then the Phoenix got to play them for the first time. It’s quite easy to see that the Nix only got to play them after Adelaide had found some form and had settled into the new playing style set by their new manager, Josep Gombau.
Does this mean that the Phoenix only have such a dominant record against the Jets because the matches have been predominantly played when the Phoenix are in form and the Jets are out of form? To answer this, I looked at the average number of points per game the teams earned in the five matches leading up to a clash between the Nix and the Jets, and compared this to the result of the match. If the average number of points earned before a win, draw or a loss by the Phoenix are all fairly similar, this would indicate that it’s not form that has caused the dominance. Whereas if the average number of points before a win is much higher than before a draw or a loss, this would suggest that the dominance is just caused by the Nix being in form when they play the Jets.
In the matches where the Nix have beaten the Jets, the Nix have earned an average of 1.42 points per game in the 5 matches preceding. When they have lost, they have just earned 0.71 points per game. This suggests that when the Phoenix go into a game against the Jets while in any sort of winning form at all, they tend to come out victorious, but when they don’t have much form at all they are nowhere near as successful. This doesn’t quite back up the “Phoenix are dominant over the Jets” argument, as the Jets aren’t necessarily a team that the Nix have been able to beat even when they haven’t been picking up points in recent matches. In fact, there is only one occasion where the Phoenix have managed to beat the Jets after not winning any of their previous five matches (the 3-0 win in Round 6 of 2012/13).
This brings us to the match against the Jets this weekend. You’d have a tough job convincing anyone (especially me!) that the Phoenix aren’t in form at the moment after the 5-1 drubbing of Melbourne City last weekend. Yes, the results in Perth and Adelaide in the weeks before were less than promising, but the team showed that they can capitalise on a shaky defensive line with the emphatic win against City. Newcastle have the second most amount of goals scored against them in the league this season (conceding an average of two goals per game), behind only Melbourne City, so they are yet to show that they have a solid backline. As a result, I expect that Ernie Merrick will send his side out there to look for goals, goals and more goals Will Nathan Burns score another hat-trick? Probably not. But the Phoenix should come away with the three points, and anything less will be a major disappointment.
*The views in this opinion piece are my own, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Yellow Fever.