Spirit v Newcastle

Round 5 report by Paul Goodwin
Northern Spirit v Newcastle United

A typically cautious approach by two sides under pressure to perform produced a tame scoreless draw at North Power Stadium, Gosford, on Saturday night when Northern Spirit and Newcastle United got to grips on another poor pitch in front of a disappointingly small crowd.

Spirit were the hosts and may have hoped to pick up where they left off the previous week when they put four goals past the Football Kingz, but they met a much more resolute opponent this time.

There was no real home advantage for Northern Spirit whose supporters had to contend with either the problems of parking in an unfamiliar city or battling their way north on a fleet of buses put on by City Rail, due to trackwork on the northern line over the weekend.

They also faced long queues at the turnstiles with tickets being sold at a snail's pace by just one operator and sections of the crowd took up to 45 minutes to make their weary way into the almost empty stadium.

What greeted them, if their patience did not desert them following similar ticketing problems before the opening game against Sydney Olympic at North Sydney Oval, was a pitch of poor quality and two sides anxious not to lose.

Gone was all the flair and excitement of the Spirit's 4-2 hammering of that Auckland side just 8 days earlier and instead we had Newcastle looking the more likely of the teams to score in the first half and a minimum of risk taking by either side throughout.

Newcastle, anchored near the bottom of the ladder after a sluggush start, clearly came out seeking a point and would have been delighted with anything more.

Spirit paid them far too much respect and allowed their opponents to take their minds off their own intentions of winnning the match.

The main thrills for spectators came from some excellent saves by both keepers, whose command of their area was first rate and who both did well to tip shots over the bar on a number of occasions.

There were a few chances in the game that needed the keepers to make important saves, but generally the chances were isolated and the game for the most part became a midfield slog.

Good defending in the box, by both sides, also helped to keep the scoresheet blank and left fans undecided about the prospect for improvement by either side in the coming weeks.

An early chance saw Spirit trier Troy Cranney combine on the left with Ben Burgess for the latter to bring out the best in Bob Catlin with a fingertip save.

Northern Spirit keeper Paul Henderson made a few good saves at the base of his post when John Buonavoglia, in the 19th, was allowed to latch onto a cross from then left by Brad Wieczorek and fired in a fierce shot and also when the same pair combined soon after the break, when he raced off his line to snatch the ball from the tiny striker.

Scott Thomas had the Spirit's best chance to break the deadlock in the 39th when a cross was pushed out no further than the edge of the area by Bob Catlin, but, seemingly with the goal at his mercy, Thomas screwed his shot wide of the left post.

Robbie Enes hit one just over the bar not long after and towards the end of the game has another attempt tipped over the bar.

Henderson tipped over a Peter Tsekenis drive in the 41st in a rare moment of concern for the home defence.

Some useful work on the Spirit left flank came to naught when low crosses by both Gabriel Mendez and Matthew Langdon failed to find anyone inside the goalmouth, with defenders beaten, late in the game.

Substitute Tony Perinich was able to face Catlin on the right of goal after a nice exchange of passes between Enes and Burgess, but the veteran keeper got his body in the way right on the goal line and the last real chance went begging.

For the second game in a row Enes was stretchered off after sustaining a head wound.

This was evidence, if needed, that the players from both sides did not shirk their workload in the middle, but the lack of width and imagination going forward was a major disappointment for supporters.

The only positive for Spirit was a clean sheet and a fourth game unbeaten, but against a side as out of form as Newcastle that was scant consolation.

Newcastle definitely came out of this game with the most satisfaction.

As for the crowd; will they come back to North Power for future matches on the Central Coast after the ticketing fiasco? And will fans at North Sydney Oval think twice now after two of the team's home games have already finished scoreless?