Newcastle. It's NSW's second (maybe third) largest city and considered the hotbed of Australian Soccer. Particularly in the early part of the century when the Australian side was basically the Wallsend 11. More recently it is the venue of the second leg of the Australia v New Zealand trans-tasman encounter. To be precise at the Breakers Stadium, home to the Newcastle Breakers who have just this season re-entered the Australian 1st Division, the A-League.
Being the sad addict I am I was able to convince a transportationally enhanced person to take me along and I was able to take some pleasure from 'being there'. I was somewhat concerned about the possible lack of interest in the game, after all important games are not played in Newcastle and their inhabitants are fully aware of this. However I was needlessly concerned, the locals were out in force and the ground looked full with the 9000 crowd in attendance. Armed with the obligatory, and somewhat anorexic, match programme (which has the same portrait for both Jason Polak and Sean Cranney..go figure) I entered the ground and set off to find Mick Kmet who had taken the trouble to tell me where the hell Newcastle was.
Much to my surprise Tim and I meeting Mick was captured on the highlights package screened on TV, naturally it wasn't central to the footage but it was somewhat interesting. Of course the hard-core supporters were there too, after all a lot of them are from Newcastle anyway. They were in full song and it was nice to see them adding to their repertoire with contemporary lyrics. "Anna Wood, she took ecstacy", though tasteless (a young teenage girl who died after a rave party where she took ecstacy) was enthusiastically sung to the tune of Go West and the New Zealand anthem was greeted with a solid round of sheep bleats.
Taking up position on the incline behind the goal Australia was attacking in the first half I was somewhat disappointed with Australia's form in the match. At least some of the problem may have been the players unfamiliarity with one another although most of that should have been straightened out in the abysmal 0-0 from the first leg. It probably also had something to do with the New Zealanders direct and physical style. Infact comments from the players had been made saying that the size tactics of the Kiwis were making life hard for the Aussies. I don't buy any of that, but it's feasible.
The match got underway ordinarily enough and the Kiwis certainly had their kicking boots on with goalkeeper Jason Batty coming out of his box and clearing a through ball by kicking it out of the stadium. However it was the Kiwis ability to make the long ball work for them which caused some consternation among the fans. New Zealand were able to get 3 shots on goal before Australia managed to elude all the Kiwi defenders to reply in kind. The most dangerous Kiwi oppertunity came when a long raking ball forward dropped in behind Tony Popovic and was picked up by Darren McLennan whose shot was barely palmed wide of the post by the alert Jason Petkovic. Another long range attempt from Vaughan Coveny was more easily cleaned up but the threat of New Zealand to spoil the party was apparent. McLennan then followed up his earlier effort by skirting the penalty area and unleashing a swerving drive which glanced off the outside of the post.
It was understandable then that the fans looked for some other source of amusement and the Red Rooster chicken suffered for his art. The dressed up mascot was set upon by some overly playful fans and unmasked as a rather bewildered young man who was probably hoping none of his friends were watching.
You can safely assume that for all Australia's midfield posession the Kiwis had the better of the opening 20-25 minutes. It was refreshing then to see that Australia finally knuckled down and a through ball from Paul Trimboli was chased by Damien Mori who outpaced 3 defenders and put the ball past Batty and the ball bounced in off both posts.
As the sun set, bringing a deep red horizon over the western end of the ground the Australians woke up and began to take control of pretty much everything. Milan Ivanovic was, as always, majestic in defence, Paul Trimboli was relishing his return to the side after a 2 year absence and making a good fist of the playmaking role and perhaps it was only Australia's traditional weakness at the front which held the final score to 3-0 instead of something more embarrassing.
It was another Trimboli through ball, this time for Spiteri to chase, which led to the second goal. Tired of being outrun Alun Evans tried to slide the ball away from Spiteri but took his legs instead and this just inside the penalty area. All my fears were answered when Paul Wade stepped up to take the penalty seeing as his last shot against Argentina smacked into the post and he's had a few misses for his club last season. Still he managed to score but I suspect more by luck than good management, he was greatly assisted when Batty dove the wrong way which hid his rather poorly placed attempt just left of centre probably overcompensating for the Argentina miss.
Halftime gave me a glimpse of the Breakers Babes but I spent halftime and a disturbing length of the second half queueing for some food. Apparently the Breakers burger are quite decent but I opted for the steak sandwich and some well lubricated chips. Perhaps this will be a lesson to make sure I eat before I get to the ground.
Still the queue was a vantage point from which I saw Australia score their 3rd goal in which some posession was converted into a goal with a triangular passing movement between Blagojevic, Trimboli and Spiteri. Spiteri's initial shot bounced back off the keeper but Joe retrieved the ball and angled his followup into the empty net. Replays later revealed there was a questionable use of hands by Spiteri when he controlled the rebound but it was hard to ascertain intent and the goal stood.
With more than 30 minutes to go the Australians might have scored a few more but the urgency of winnig had gone and the use of 4 substitutes meant that the understanding that had been built was more or less lost. Still New Zealand was unable to disturb the Australian goal meaning Petkovic makes a clean sheet debut and Australia pretty much controlled the entire half without making their Trans-Tasman brothers pay for it.
The Breakers stadium was pretty quiet for the second half and there was a trickle of people who wanted to avoid the traffic jam. Perhaps they just wanted to buy their tickets for 2 nights later when Adelaide City (including Petkovic, Ivanovic, Tobin and Mori) would return to play the Breakers. A game which, incidentally, was won by the home side by 2-1.