The last few rounds of any season are all about momentum and Newcastle Jets are certainly building up an impressive head of steam heading towards the Hyundai A-League Finals Series.
Ernie Merrick’s men are now less than one win outside the finals places midway through Round 21 and now have those teams above them nervously looking over their shoulder.
Saturday night’s drought-breaking away win over reigning Champions Melbourne Victory will only boost their belief they can be this season’s fairy-tale story.
And they may be targeting a higher finish than just sixth given results over the weekend.
We look ahead at what Newcastle’s current five-game unbeaten run has done to their chances of making the finals, while also assessing the race for the Premiers’ Plate and a top-two berth.
Jets soaring as gap closes to fourth spot
Before Saturday night’s win over Victory in Geelong, it had been almost 12 months since the Hunter club had taken all three points from a game outside of NSW.
But that impressive performance to beat the Champions 2-0 has taken the Jets to 26 points, just two behind sixth-placed Wellington Phoenix (28).
While the ‘Nix do have a game in hand – away against lowly Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night – Newcastle may have their sights even higher.
In fact, Adelaide United (31) and Melbourne City’s (30) inability to take maximum points on the weekend means there is now just five points separating the fourth-placed Reds from Newcastle in seventh.
Round 22 could be where the Jets close the gap even further as they host the Mariners (last place), while the Reds (v Perth Glory) and City (v Sydney FC) face tricky tests.
And the following rounds clash against the Phoenix in Wellington at the end of the month has season-defining match written all over it.
Glory stumble as Sydney FC mount their case
Two weeks ago Perth Glory had one hand on the Premiers’ Plate with a 10-point lead from the chasing pack.
But back-to-back draws – coupled with two hard-fought wins to Sydney FC – has seen the Sky Blues close to within six points of the Hyundai A-League summit.
While it’s still a little premature to suggest Tony Popovic’s men are feeling the pressure of being the hunted (they are currently on a 12-game unbeaten run), there are a couple of cracks starting to appear.
And the next two games will certainly test their resolve, with another tough away game against Adelaide United followed by a visit to HBF Park by Victory.
The Sky Blues meanwhile will be hoping to pounce on any further potential slip-ups from Perth as they host Melbourne City then travel to Brisbane Roar in their next two games.
While there is still a bit of water to go under the bridge between now and Round 26 – including the start of the AFC Champions League for Sydney FC – the clash between the Sky Blues and Glory in the penultimate game of the regular season could be massive.
Victory risk missing out on top-two
Seemingly certainties for at least a top-two finish for much of the campaign, Victory now have work to do if they are to earn a week off in the opening week of the Finals Series.
Saturday night’s upset 2-0 loss to the Jets in Geelong means Kevin Muscat’s side have now gone four matches without a win.
While injuries, illness and a couple of red cards have all contributed to their lean run, there’s no escaping the fact they are now four points behind the resurgent Sky Blues in second.
With their ACL campaign beginning on Tuesday night, the matches – and travel - are going to come thick and fast in coming weeks.
While their next Hyundai A-League match is at home against Brisbane Roar in a fortnight, their following two games are both away against Glory and Sydney FC.
If Victory is to finish in the top two, you feel those matches will be must-win affairs for the defending champions.