A-League analysis: Miraculous Millar puts languid Newcastle to bed in F3 Derby

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The Mariners right-back was unstoppable on Saturday, could he be a future Socceroo?

Saturday's F3 Derby between Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners was another classic that had everything one could wish for in a derby from a spirited comeback to VAR controversy of the highest order.

In the end though, the Mariners battled their way to a 3-2 victory in Alen Stajcic's first match in charge and only the Gosford team's second win of the season and first away victory in the local rivalry since 2012.

Stajcic quickly developed a strategy to get the best out of emerging talent Matthew Millar that was boosted with the fluency of their counter-attack, while Ernie Merrick's focus down the right proved to be the wrong move.

Here are three tactical observations from Goal's A-League Match of the Week for Round 22...

Mariners prove too fast on the counter for Newcastle

Jem Karacan Mariners

The first half of the rival clash was quite timid. Both teams were testing each other to see who would blink first but not dedicating too many resources when going forward.

After the break though, Newcastle came out with new-found intent, throwing plenty of players up front to try and open the scoring. This would prove their demise however as Stajcic's men were far quicker on the transition than the home side.

As soon as Mariners won the ball back, there were plenty of players running to support their teammate. Jets, on the other hand, were languid with their body movement and they were in no rush to get back to defend. 

Both the first and third goal for Central Coast came in this manner as they rushed into position while Newcastle were left to chase shadows.

This was a testament to the Mariners new-found resilience under Stajcic, but also a huge blow to Merrick. What will be most concerning for the Newcastle head coach will be the fact the players he sent out signalled a fairly pragmatic approach, with the midfield base containing the defensive-minded duo of Steven Ugarkovic and Nick Cowburn.

Especially with those two manning the midfield, the Jets were far too open and gave permission to their opponents to enjoy space on the counter - Central Coast were more than happy to oblige.

Right target, wrong result

Ernie Merrick

Merrick clearly identified the Mariners left side, or their own right side, as a possible area to exploit.

A lot of their play involved overloading that area of the pitch and trying to create number advantages on the right-hand side.

They could not pierce through the defence of Stajcic's team, which was reportedly his main focus in his few days of training, and the Jets did not muster up too many notable chances by their constant attacks on the left. As evident from their eventual comeback that fell just short, the Jets would have been better served if they targeted the opposite end.

Both goals they scored involved attacking the left-wing, where Matt Millar was often left outnumbered. Millar's attacking instincts leave the area behind often gaping, so there is a much greater chance to catch defenders out of position when he is caught forward.

If Newcastle attacked his end sooner rather than persisting on the right, the result might have ended differently.

Perhaps when he eventually joins the Jets once the season ends, Merrick will have time to realise that he will need to provide defensive cover when Millar goes forward to help in the attacking third.

Newcastle have no answer for Millar

Matthew Millar Mariners 2019

Millar's transition from the National Premier League (NPL) to the A-League has been seamless, and he looks an excellent addition for the Jets next season.

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In another dark and disappointing campaign for the Mariners, the NPL addition has been a bright light that gave Mariners some hope. At his best, the right-back is nothing short of unstoppable, and it's unfortunate that the board weren't able to tie him down sooner.

The second goal of the night showed exactly what Millar is capable of going forward. He takes the ball on the right-hand side near the touchline and bursts past not one, not two, not three, but FOUR players before a deflected pass meets the path of captain Jem Karacan to put away.

At only 22, Millar still has some way to go, and if he continues to develop at the rate he has this season, the sky is the limit and a Socceroos shirt inevitable.

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