After extra time - Newcastle win 6-5 on penalties. Newcastle have caused one of the upsets of the season, knocking pre-season favourites Gold Coast United out of the competition in a penalty shoot-out.
Newcastle we’re equal to it for 120 minutes and six penalties when the unlikely hero of the night Ben Kennedy saved Zenon Caravella’s weak effort to the right to let the Jets advance to the next stage.
Kennedy, who hasn’t exactly been a rock at the back for the Jets this season, had the game of his life against a Gold Coast attack that should have been able to put the ball past him, but couldn’t.
Golden boot winner Shane Smeltz was particularly guilty, with most of his shots on goal being more swiped at then placed.
Early on in the 28th minute he found himself one on one with Kennedy after a lobbed ball fell between the defensive line and the ‘keeper but Smeltz couldn’t get anything on it. He had the ball under control and then seemed undecided on his next course of action, trying to dribble the ‘keeper, and losing the ball under himself under pressure from Kennedy who claimed the ball.
It seemed to be a sign of things to come for Smeltz and Gold Coast. There weren’t too many clear cut chances in the first half, but some good balls behind the Jets defence kept them guessing.
38th minute saw the best chances for both sides with Thompson first making a great run into the box and receiving an equal pass before finishing rather poorly, with Vanstrattan deflecting the ball out to his defenders who spread it wide until Smeltz had rather a similar opportunity at the other end where he also lashed at the ball and went wide.
The Jets had lost four in a row; no A-League club has ever lost five, and seemed to be playing quite freely without expectation. On the other-hand, Gold Coast, who themselves don’t have the best form heading into the match, were panicking slightly, knowing they should be performing better than they have.
Kennedy was ever-present for the Newcastle defence, looking at this one game you’d hardly recognise him from the frankly awful young ‘keeper he was at the start of the season.
It was in the last 10 minutes that things got frantic for both sides, particularly Gold Coast, fighting to keep it out of extra time. Culina Junior was getting angry and Culina Senior wasn’t far behind.
Nobody could break the deadlock so to a television programmer’s delight/despair, we headed in to extra time.
Teams traded few chances in extra time but substitute James Brown was making some good runs in the box, first playing a one two with Smeltz but having his shot smothered by Kennedy, the next time squaring it for Smeltz.
Kennedy was in all sorts of trouble but somehow got a hand to Smeltz’s first effort, giving it straight back to the World Cup bound striker, who again hit it straight at Kennedy, who was all at sea. I don’t know how he did it, but Kennedy kept a clean sheet. For just the fifth time in 28 games this season.
So having played a good game, he still had shaky moments and you would have had to have had a lot of guts to back him in a shoot-out.
Elrich fired it past Vanstrattan, who picked the direction but couldn’t get to his shot. Culina ran to the spot (he runs everywhere else, I imagine just shopping with him, he’d run to get the milk and vegemite) and coolly as you like slotted it past the Jets stopper. One-One.
Everyone seemed to have the better of the keeper in the obligatory five shots (when Smeltz walked up the tremendous thought of what if Kennedy saved this did pop up, although he did get a hand to it, the ball continued into the net) so we marched to sudden death.
Up stepped Song for Newcastle, who had had a busy game in the centre of midfield. The whistle blew and Song seemed to, deliberately or otherwise chip his shot and sent it over the bar. The stadium erupted, even the Gold Coast players on the field (who clearly forgot the rules of a penalty shoot-out) ran a bit before the referee sent them back. Kristian Rees had to finish it for them.
With the low pitched “Rees, Rees, Rees” chant coming from the crowd the big defender walked up and, this one was clearly a scuff, scooped the ball completely sending it well over the bar. Pressure? Definitely. Right man? Probably not.
Topor-Stanley took the Jets next one and easily slotted it past Vanstrattan, sending him the other way. Caravella came to the spot for Gold Coast. With a straight run up he put the ball to his right. Kennedy picked it early and got a big glove to it to slam it back to earth. Newcastle had won the match.
Newcastle will be happy with this, they weren’t expected to do much in this game, nor this season, and they still won’t, playing for the heck of it is great for the players and they responded well.
Gold Coast. After all the pre-season hype this seems a little disappointing. But for a debut season, third is a great performance for a club. Not without their off-field dramas, they seem to have carved themselves into the A-League quite well and will definitely still be a threat next season.