Thursday, May 21, 2009
Hats 'hoff' to Jets
They say that great goalscorers become renowned for the timing of their goals as much as the quantity.
Such a maxim might well apply to 20-year-old NSW product Jason Hoffman after he popped up with the winner in the first-half of Newcastle's historic AFC Champions League victory over Ulsan Hyundai last night.
Newcastle's desperate 1-0 win means they finish second in Group E behind Nagoya Grampus and qualify for the last 16 at the first time of asking.
The fact that striker Hoffman headed the only goal of the game before the half-time break was newsworthy in itself. However, incredibly, it was the local lad's first-ever goal for his hometown club on his 23rd appearance.
Hoffman has been around the Jets for a fair while now without really commanding a regular place in the side. He began the last domestic season in demand for club and country before snapping his cruciate ligament in an A-League meeting with Adelaide and being forced to undergo a full knee reconstruction.
Thought to be out until the start of the new domestic season in August, the speed of Hoffman's recovery startled Newcastle's medical team when he made his return in the defeat by Nagoya Grampus a month ago.
Hoffman, though, is just one part of the good news story surrounding the Jets.
Nobody gave the Novocastrians a chance of progressing into the round of 16 after finishing last in the just-completed A-League season and suffering a string of senior departures from an already wafer-thin squad before the ACL began.
They then lost 2-0 to Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan in the opening round.
But coach Gary Van Egmond always maintained his much-changed side from the one which delivered AFC qualification a year ago had enough class and determination to see off Asia's rich despite the losses of Joel Griffiths, Jade North, goalkeeper Ante Covic, Mark Milligan and James Holland.
You wonder how far the current group of players can take Van Egmond, but then weren't pundits muttering exactly the same doom-mongering a year ago when Adelaide surprised everyone by making the knockout stages before going all the way to the final.
Still, not all is hunky-dory at the Jets. This past week has seen Ljubo Milicevic's outburst at colourful owner Con Constantine, training ground bust-ups plus a row about bonus payments, all of which has slightly taken the lustre of their achievement.
Even Van Egmond seemed a little underwhelmed afterwards. "It was not one of our best footballing displays, but for us to get the win I thought it was full of merit," he said.
Newcastle will be given the rest of the month off before starting preparations for a sudden-death showdown with Group H table-toppers Pohang Steelers on June 24.
Jason Culina has touched down on the Gold Coast ahead of the start of his marquee deal with one of two new league franchises. Perth recruit Jacob Burns, another midfielder, albeit on the periphery of Pim Verbeek's Socceroos squad, has also returned from Romania.
And now Mile Sterjovski is the latest regular national team member to look to come home. At this stage, his destination is unknown, with clubs in China, Japan and Korea thought to be sniffing around. But what is certain is Sterjovski, a hard-working right-sided midfielder, is unwanted by manager Nigel Clough at Derby County despite a year remaining on his current contract.
Ruben Zadkovich, formally of Sydney FC, has also been shown the door by Clough. Zadkovich is already back in Australia having undergone groin surgery.
Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com
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