Jets v Knights

A-League report by Jeremy Ruane
Newcastle United Jets v New Zealand Knights

Three goals in the last eighteen minutes of this bottom-of-the-table Hyundai A-League encounter have allowed Newcastle Jets to leapfrog the New Zealand Knights on the standings and finally get their season underway, this 3-0

victory at EnergyAustralia Stadium on October 14 the home team's first win of the campaign.

The "under new management" signs were out for the Jets this week, Gary Van Egmond having taken over in a temporary capacity following a parting of the ways with Nick Theodorakopoulos - a tad harsh on the ever-enthusiastic manager, given the Jets' encouraging display against runaway league leaders Melbourne Victory last week.

The form they showed in that match carried over into this one, a game in which the Knights, until a tactical change made half-way through the first half, simply struggled to compete.

Newcastle were all over them, but thanks to a tendency to over-elaborate - the old "simplicity breeds success" mantra would have worked wonders time and again - and a lack of confidence in the attacking third, they couldn't turn their industry and creativity into something tangible on the score sheet.

It certainly wasn't for the want of trying - three corners in the first four minutes of the match outlined the home team's intentions right from the outset. But an erratic Vaughan Coveny volley and the containing of Nick Carle, at the end of a neat move also involving Stuart Musialik and the overlapping Paul Kohler, meant the visitors could breath a sigh of relief after the first ten minutes, when they created their own opening.

Noah Hickey's twenty-yarder arced across the face of goal on this occasion, following a brief charge from Ghanain Hanza Mohammed, one of two new recruits to the Knights' playing squad this week, the other being fellow debutant Campbell Banks.

This effort prompted further Newcastle pressure, and a flurry of chances followed. Carle volleyed wildly over in the twelfth minute, followed seconds later by Milton Rodriguez, after Matt Thompson had got in behind the defence.

Four minutes later, the Jets squandered a glorious chance to open the scoring, Kohler's ball over the top catching out the Knights defence and leaving Rodriguez one-on-one with Knights' ‘keeper Michael Turnbull.

The Columbian directed his first-time volley straight at the custodian, who beat away another effort from the striker inside the next sixty seconds, Turnbull having cleared the ball downfield in between times to engineer a chance for Sean Devine, which saw the Knights' striker force a save from Ben Kennedy.

After Stuart Musialik had lashed a low twenty-five yarder through a crowded penalty area but wide of the target, watching Knights coach Paul Nevin made a tactical switch which reduced the copious amounts of space being afforded the Novocastrians. They took a wee while to adjust, by which time the visitors should have taken the lead, on the half-hour.

Hickey's free-kick wasn't cleared, and a gaping hole suddenly appeared in the heart of Newcastle's defence, through which Banks strode, just Kennedy to beat. But from nowhere, a fellow New Zealand international appeared to thwart the Knights' striker, Coveny's timely tackle keeping the contest scoreless.

Newcastle picked up the tempo once more, Carle finding spaces on the Knights' left flank in which to operate. Mohammed initially thwarted his progress, but Carle battled back to regain possession for Rodriguez's benefit. His low cross went behind Coveny, however, the striker shooting tamely at Turnbull ten minutes before the interval.

Seconds later, the home team should have scored, no question - it was an even more clear-cut chance than that Rodriguez spurned in the seventeenth minute! Coveny got the better of Neil Emblen to leave himself one-on-one with the fast-closing figure of Turnbull, and with no time to unleash a shot.

Instead, a pass to the perfectly poised Rodriguez was played, and with the goal at his mercy, it looked a goal all over. But Knights captain Darren Bazeley had other ideas, and produced a stunning tackle to thwart the striker and save the day for his team - an outstanding piece of defensive work which strangled the cheers forming in the throats of the 5725 victory-starved Newcastle fans on hand to watch this encounter.

Both Che Bunce and Rodriguez exchanged efforts on goal before the interval - neither were on target - while a Carle twenty-yarder which tested Turnbull apart, the first nine minutes of the second spell were similarly scrappy.

Come the 54th minute, however, Rodriguez was again guilty of squandering a goalscoring opportunity, this time with the assistance of Joel Griffiths. Paul Okon played a delightful ball forward which again found the Knights' rearguard wanting, much to the Columbian's delight.

He and Griffiths charged towards the edge of the penalty area, at which point their clever interchange of passes had given the Knights' defence time to retreat, and with Turnbull again narrowing the angle, the moment was lost, and the home team's frustrations intensified.

Rodriguez could not be faulted for trying, however. Four minutes later, he brought a fine save out of the Knights' custodian with a twenty-five yard free-kick struck low round the defensive wall.

Turnbull's efforts had been one of the few positives in the match to this point for the visitors, and it was fitting that he should inspire their first opening of the half, with a goal-kick which cleared the half-way line by some distance. Newcastle failed to deal with it, and Mohammed and Hickey immediately capitalised, the latter's twenty-five yarder deflecting to safety.

From the resulting throw-in, lively substitute Michael White evaded two challenges before getting into the penalty area to force a solid save from Kennedy, low by his right-hand post in the 64th minute.

This was the Knights' best spell of the game, and five minutes later, they went closer still. Another replacement, Adam Casey, roasted Kohler and Andrew Durante down the right before whipping in an inviting low cross right across the face of goal.

All it needed was a touch, from either a defender or a striker, to see the scoreboard altered in the visitors' favour, but no-one obliged, and the league's lowest-ranked teams seemed destined to produce a scoreline fully in keeping with respective form-lines which betray a growing lack of confidence in both camps.

Suddenly, all hint of gloom and despondency evaporated for Newcastle, as they took the lead with eighteen minutes remaining. Carle fired in a corner to the near post, where the unmarked Jade North arrived on cue to power home a header from six yards.

Within three minutes, however, the Knights could have drawn level. Richard Johnson, playing against his old club, combined with White to prise open the Jets' rearguard and present Devine with a chance. The striker let fly with a shot destined for the bottom far corner of the net, but Kennedy got down well to save low to his left.

The next incident hinted that the Jets weren't finished, and inevitably, it was the creativity of Carle which caused the chaos. The league's most exciting player in its first campaign set off on a mazy run ten minutes from time which appeared to have come to a dead end near the edge of the Knights' penalty area.

At this point, Carle, checked, cut inside and let fly with a sizzling left-foot drive which screamed over Turnbull and crashed onto the underside of the crossbar. That it bounced down and out merely reflected Newcastle's fortunes so far this season, but it was a signal for the Jets to launch a string of attacks on the Knights' goal in the final stages of this match.

Griffiths and Rodriguez both headed wide of the target, while the former missed an absolute sitter five minutes from time when set up by the latter. But the relief for the Knights arising from this was decidedly temporary.

Carle varied his corner-taking routine by playing the ball well away from the gathered throngs in the penalty area, instead picking out Musialik arriving some twenty-five yards out from goal. He checked and let fly through the crowds, the ball arrowing inside the right-hand upright of Turnbull to clinch the points for the home team.

This put the fans in party mode, and, feeding on their energy, Newcastle's players followed suit. But for Turnbull, both Rodriguez and Mark Bridge would have joined in the fun before the final whistle, but the Columbian wasn't to be denied the goal his persistence deserved.

Deep in stoppage time, Carle picked out Bridge from half-way, and the substitute's touch put Rodriguez through one-on-one with Turnbull. The ‘keeper forced the striker to the by-line, and the danger appeared to have been averted, until the striker turned and simply smashed the ball home from the most acute of angles to secure a 3-0 victory for the Jets, and lift them off the bottom of the table.

Their replacements are the vanquished team, the Knights' impotence in front of goal seeing them boasting a record of just one goal in eight A-League games, the last six of which have seen the New Zealand entry on the wrong end of the scoreline. When will they arrest the decline?