Newcastle Jets kept the A-Leagues' other sides' Championship hopes alive, as well as its own Finals aspirations, with a one-nil win at Docklands against the league's runaway leaders Melbourne Victory on Sunday afternoon.
Milton Rodriguez scored the only goal of the game on the hour after man of the match Nick Carle found space behind the Victory defence leaving the Colombian striker free to pick his spot. It was a clever turn from Carle from the forward edge of the penalty-area, and his perfectly-weighted pass provided Rodriguez with the chance on a plate. Rodriguez shot low inside the near post with Victory goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic badly exposed by the quality of Carle's pass.
Victory had its opportunities to take the lead before Rodriguez' strike, but top quality goalkeeping from substitute goalkeeper Ivan Necevski kept Victory scoreless. Necevski had come on in the games' first minutes after starting goalkeeper Ben Kennedy had been injured under challenge by Victory forward Danny Allsopp just eight minutes in. After a couple of minutes assessment by the Jets' medical staff who were giving attention to Kennedy's neck and arm, it was clear Kennedy could not continue, compelling van Egmond to make the change.
If making such a change had van Egmond concerned at the time of its making, the understudy's efforts during the game would have given his coach considerable confidence by game's end. Indeed, it was a series of saves by Necevski which provided the foundation upon which the Jets' win stood.
"Kennedy is feeling a bit sore and sorry for himself at the moment, said Jets' coach Gary van Egmond in the post-match media conference. "He'll go for an X-ray tomorrow morning to assess how he is."
"It was a fifty-fifty ball, and unfortunately that's part of the gig for a goalkeeper. Those things happen in football - the ball's there to be won, and (Allsopp's) not that type of person (to cause deliberate injury)."
"(Necevski) was man of the match," said Victory coach Ernie Merrick of the replacement goalkeeper after the game. "We had three one-on-ones (and) if we'd scored one of those I think it would have been a different game. But (Jets) got its chance and took it well."
"We had numerous scoring chances. I'm very disappointed to lose," he said.
At times, Merrick's disappointment flashed into anger in his post-game review. "(There was) not enough fightback after (the goal) though. It was very quiet in the last moments. No-one really took hold of the game and fired everyone up."
"If anyone says they're tired or flat, they've got to change. They've got to get a life, or get off the pitch. There's 27,000 who want to see (Victory players) fight right to the end. (Tonight) wasn't good enough."
Newcastle's pace down the flanks caused Victory early problems, and resulted in Merrick making a tactical change just after the half-hour. Adrian Caceres was withdrawn and replaced by Alessandro. Joel Griffiths was finding time and space down the right for Jets and the change was made in an attempt to staunch that flow.
"Griffiths was getting in behind Adrian who's not as defensively-minded," said Merrick. We'd worked on coming out at the back (at training), but it didn't work in the game."
Indeed Alessandro's value was not solely in a negative role. Before long he'd given Victory its best chance of the half. A long diagonal ball played by Grant Brebner caught out Jade North and allowed the Brazilian a free run in on goal. As the Jets' defence scrambled to cover, Alessandro cut inside to a better shooting angle. Necevski got his angles right and so when Alessandro sought to lift the ball, he was in position to make an excellent save.
Griffiths had Jets' best first-half chance after a run up the right midway through the half. Paul Kohler's pass along the line allowed Griffiths to steal behind the Victory defence and race towards goal. However Griffiths' shot went by the far post.
Allsopp brought out another fine save from Necevski not long after the re-start. During a storming run up the middle, Allsopp skipped past challenges from Carle, Paul Okon, and Steve Eagleton. Necevski's one-handed save at the last together with a desperate lunge by North was enough to deny Allsopp due reward for his endeavour.
Minutes later Necevski once again came to his side's aid, making a fine save at the feet of Fred. Alessandro and Fred had combined to exchange passes up the left and it was Alessandro's touch which sent Fred free inside the penalty-area. But Necevski's decisive intervention snuffed out yet another opportunity.
The value of Necevski's saves was underlined just after the hour when Rodriguez stole behind the Victory defence on Carle's pass to beat Galekovic at the near post. Carle had been influential in the midfield for Jets and it was fitting the goal had been set up by him in such a manner.
So many recent Victory games at Docklands had late goals for Victory which had snatched unlikely wins or draws, and so the large attendance of almost 30,000 steeled itself for similar fare.
Brebner almost reprised his last minute intervention of Victory's previous home game when his 30 yard shot hit the base of the Jets' post with Necevski beaten. But there was to be no Victory fairy-story this week, and so the large crowd departed the arena disappointed.