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Jan 3, 2011

We need to get our focus back: Culina

Newcastle coach Branko Culina admits his team, who at one stage looked like bona fide A-League finals contenders, have lost their focus.

The Jets seemed to have turned their season around after a shaky start and financial woes that at one stage put the future of the club in doubt.

But their recent good run seems to be unravelling.

After a seven-game unbeaten streak, they have now sunk to a third loss on the trot, going down 2-1 to bottom of the table battlers Sydney FC at EnergyAustralia on Monday.

And Culina feels off-field matters, namely the loss of former Everton and Arsenal star Francis Jeffers and Ljubo Milicevic's decision to leave the club at the end of the season and hence relinquishing the captaincy, have distracted the squad.

"We've had a few issues with the captaincy, we've had a few issues with Jeffers, whether he wants to play or he doesn't," Culina said.

"And all of that does take its toll, we're all human beings and get affected by what's around us, so if there's negativity it does reflect.

"But at the end of the day good teams have to overcome those things."

Jeffers, who signed on with the team on a 10-game guest stint, was key in the Jets recent run of good form so his refusal to extend his stay at the club has left a gaping hole.

"I'm not interested in Frannie. Frannie's history," a frustrated Culina said when asked what he thinks Jeffers' next move may be.

And asked if he'll ever play for Newcastle again, Culina said: "Which one?" alluding to a possible move back to England.

"Look, he's a quality player and he added a lot to the team because he holds the ball up well, brings other players into the game and it's fair to say we didn't have that without him.

"But at $20,000 a pop you'd expect a player to do that."

The English striker's last game for the Jets was to be Monday night's clash with Sydney, but a strained groin meant he would end his guest stint on a sour note.

"I don't know about letting me down," Culina said.

"Look, he had a guest stint here and overall I think he did very well but if he's got injuries it can stop a player from producing.

"It would have been nice to have him on the park and it would have been nice for him also to finish on a positive."

The Jets now sit in eighth place on the ladder and are still hopeful of making the top six.

But with nine matches of the preliminary season left, including clashes with the third-placed Central Coast and the fourth-placed Gold Coast, Culina is looking to get direction back into his squad.

"There's enough quality in our team, but I don't kid myself, I know where we are in the scheme of things," he said.

"We're not a Brisbane, although we have proven to them and all the top teams that when we are fully focused we can match it with the very best.

"Finding that focus is our primary goal now.

"Like I said, we've had a few distractions but it's no excuse, we've got to get focused."

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