Newcastle United scored an opening round 2-1 victory over the Football Kingz at Ericsson Stadium on September 21, but it was an uninspiring, lacklustre start to the 2003-4 Australian National Soccer League by both teams.
The home team, who were sporting a number of new faces as well as a new kit, appeared well in need of the run against opposition which was very much a step-up from that which they had taken on in pre-season action, while the visitors, despite enjoying the greater share of possession, were distinctly lacking in imagination - not surprising when one considers that the match kicked off at 10.15am Australian time!!
After Michael Utting had swatted away a Greg Owens piledriver in the fourteenth minute, United took the lead thanks to some static defending. Owens took on Rowley and John Tambouras, the latter having drifted across to assist his team-mate, not realising that it was a telling mistake.
For it left Esala Masi free to charge forward, and when Owens slipped the ball into the flying Fijianıs path, the gate was wide open, and through it he bolted. The advancing Utting had no chance as Masi buried his shot in the far corner of the net to open the scoring in the nineteenth minute.
The Kingz sought a quick riposte, and when Rowley won the ball just outside the penalty area two minutes later, a swift equaliser looked to be on the cards. Tambouras was clearly eager to make amends for his part in the opening goal, and his overlapping run was rewarded with a measured pass. A well-flighted cross to the far post found Beldham arriving on cue, but the striker was unable to direct his effort on target.
It was the closest the home team was to come to scoring throughout the remainder of the half. Mind, Newcastle werenıt much better, but with the one chance of note they created, they doubled their advantage.
As with the first goal, this 29th minute effort owed much to defensive deficiencies. The Kingz took on statue-like proportions as United playmaker, Milan Blagojevic, played a quick free-kick into the path of Ryan Griffiths. His unchallenged cross found the head of Masi, whose downward header bounced off Uttingıs right-hand upright. Jobe Wheelhouse was on hand to bundle home what proved to be the match-winning goal.
The second spell sparked into life in the 55th minute, new Kingz striker Paul Harries racing down the left before steering a low cross into Beldhamıs path. But Adam Griffiths was perfectly placed to thwart the speedster and keep the Kingz scoreless once more.
Three minutes later, another Kingz raid saw Chris Jackson play the ball in to the fresh legs of substitute Tallan Martin, whose lovely touch presented Harries with a great shooting chance. Before he could pull the trigger, however, Damien Brownıs superb covering tackle spared Unitedıs blushes.
Martinıs touch-play was again influential in the Kingz next chance, which Beldham pulled across the face of goal in the 67th minute. This sparked a small spell of pressure from Newcastle, with Owens threading the ball through to Mitchell Johnson.
Utting was off his line smartly to save at the midfielderıs feet in the 75th minute, and looked on with relief three minutes later as Masi spurned a glorious chance to make absolutely certain of the points. A slick one-two between Johnson and Brown released the latter down the right, and his low cross was an invitation to score. The Fijian marksman was too casual, however, and Unitedıs last chance of note was spurned.
Not so that of the Kingz, however. After substitute Paul Seaman had directed a header, from a Jackson free-kick, just wide of the far post, the home team gave the 2304 faithful which made up the reported attendance something to cheer about in stoppage time.
Jeremy Christieıs free-kick wasnıt cleared by Newcastle, and Tambouras hooked the ball goalwards. Harry Ngata, calf injury notwithstanding, had entered the fray sixteen minutes from time, and was lurking with intent for just such an opportunity.
From six yards out, he made no mistake, but it was too little, too late, for the home team, whose last win on home turf was against Newcastle in last seasonıs corresponding fixture, on December 6, 2002.