It’s been a tough start to the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 Season for Newcastle Jets but one player is turning heads and setting records in Ernie Merrick’s side.
Steven Ugarkovic has developed into one of the Hyundai A-League’s most consistent midfielders as he embarks on his fourth full season in the Hunter.
The Jets squad has a number of players more experienced than the Baulkham Hills-born 'baller, but even at 25 he’s emerging as a bona fide leader of the side.
Joe Marston Medallist and FOX Sports pundit Daniel McBreen was suitably impressed with his performance in the 1-1 draw against Perth Glory in Round 5, nominating Ugarkovic as his Player of the Round.
Ugarkovic showcased not only his work-rate against the Premiers, but also his keen eye for a pass that can unlock an opponent's defence, as he set up Jason Hoffman to give the Jets the lead.
But his excellent form in 2019/20 probably shouldn’t come as a shock, considering the incredible numbers racked up in the Jets’ very first competitive match of the campaign in the FFA Cup 2019 Round of 32.
‘It’s the most I’ve ever seen in a game’
Ugarkovic’s strong start to the campaign started in Newcastle’s trip to Melbourne Victory in the last 32 of this year’s FFA Cup.
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In a match the Jets won 3-2 after more than 120 energy-sapping minutes, Ugarkovic ran more than 17 kilometres (17,187 metres), covering almost every blade of the AAMI Park pitch.
It was a marathon effort that certainly impressed Jets Strength and Conditioning coach Chris Smith, who had never seen anything like it in his time at the club.
“Someone like Stevie would normally average between 12 and 13 kilometres every game,” Smith explained to a-league.com.au.
“And we were only six weeks into pre-season at the time. Usually when we look at stats like that we break it down to metres-per-minute as that gives us an idea into the intensity you’re working at for that period of time.
“His [Ugarkovic] metres-per-minute in that first-half was 144 which is really high. He covered 6.7km in the first-half alone.
“They are really impressive numbers.”
Incredible statistics but not something that totally surprises Smith when it comes to the Australian youth international.
“His work ethic is second to none. He keeps himself in good shape, he eats right and is very strict on his diet,” the Jets’ fitness guru said.
“Stevie did a really good job over the off-season, he was able to drop body fat but maintain all his lean mass which shows he’s in good shape.
“One thing I noticed through the pre-season is his speed and power has got a little bit better as well. And it’s also his consistency of training.
“When he trains, he trains with intent. There’s no sessions where he just goes through the motions.
“He’s got good intent and he puts in whenever he trains which means he maximises every minute that he’s on the pitch.”
Ugarkovic dominates against the Premiers
Saturday’s performance in the 1-1 draw against Perth Glory was another example of Ugarkovic’s influence on his side.
No Jets player touched the ball more than the all-action midfielder, while his heatmap below shows the areas he is operating in most.
It’s not just his work-rate that is impressive. Ugarkovic has steadily improved the ball-playing side of his game.
His 52 passes at McDonald Jones Stadium came at an accuracy rate of almost 83%.
It was one of those passes that set-up Jason Hoffman’s goal for the home side.
Receiving the ball about 25 yards from goal, Ugarkovic’s eyes suggesting he was going to pass one way, before he slipped a clever reverse pass in behind the defence for Hoffman to pounce.
It was the type of ball that would have made Milos Ninkovic, Diego Castro or Alessandro Diamanti proud and one that shows the maturity of the Jets playmaker.