If Sydney FC thought they were going to take out this Premiership in a canter, they were given a rude shock in Newcastle; the Jets went so very close to ending the winning streak thanks to an injury time goal that was chalked off. The home team can count themselves very unlucky not to have taken something from the game, and with more composure in front of goal, this could have been a vastly different outcome.
What could be described as a foolhardy move saw us finish a football-filled weekend with a two hour drive north to Newcastle, and a first visit to Sportsground No 2 in the heart of the city. Setting off before 5pm, but after a day of NPL pre-season, club training and grading, sitting down for a while didn’t sound such a bad idea. Michelle, Aurelia and Anna were the co-drivers for a Tik-Tok inspired car journey that saw us pass McDonald Jones Stadium and arrive at the mysteriously named stadium and an easy car park right in front.
The Newcastle Jets active were having a tailgate party, channelling the Super Bowl, and there were at least a few people around at this early stage of the evening, with just under an hour to kick off. No time to wander, we opted to take in the pre-match and climbed the steps to take in the view of this glorious arena.
The stadium has one stand and three sides of open grass. A full house here for a Jets game would be Leichhardt Oval-esque, and the sunny conditions just made it look fantastic. The sprinklers were on, the ground staff quickly upended all the chairs when the sprinkler started up right next to the benches. Paige Satchell was there, contrary to rumours of NZ selection, Cote Rojas was absent, but we had Remy Siemsen and Cortnee Vine back and this looked a strong line-up.
The facilities were fabulous. A local brewery had set up at one end selling their wares, the barbecue was pumping out the snags and it really felt like a true family day out, a real local football feel about it. There was a stall selling Jets merchandise, and all the while the cameras were rolling and the production crew were doing their thing with people walking past behind them.
In the absence of chief agitating officer and full-ime capo Michelle, the home active support were afforded plenty of air time to crank out the chants. We Are Sydney did echo around the main stand before kick off though, and subsided on kick off. Sydney were shooting towards the tree end, and as the light faded, a couple of inflatable sauce bottles could have fooled you into thinking you were in Gosford.
Sydney FC looked like the well-oiled machine that they have become, even without Ante Juric, missing due to illness apparently. They did have to deal with some very direct play from the home team though, and the left side of attack, right in front of us, looked to bear fruit. An early chance was squandered as the striker burst through, clipping the left foot shot past Jada Whyman but past the far post. Nat Tobin reminded everyone that Sydney meant business though, and she stormed forward and clipped a shot from miles out that beat the keeper and smashed off the crossbar. The Jets then should have taken the lead, a corner lifted in and a header from point blank range flashed across the goal when we expected the net to bulge.
Just as it looked as though the home side might turn the screw, Princess Ibini went on a searching run into enemy territory. The one-two with Remy Siemsen opened up the defence and Ibini strode on and took aim from 25 yards, the ball arrowing into the net past the unlucky Jets keeper. What a goal! Ibini was working hard, something that she has been accused of not doing in the past, and it was her sprint into the area that saw her upended and an easy penalty award soon after for the referee.
Up stepped Mackenzie Hawkesby, but her penalty was telegraphed and easily pushed away, a golden opportunity to extend the lead passed up. Cortnee Vine beat her player down by the corner flag and teed up a shot for Tobin which was blocked, Ibini hit the side netting from an acute angle, while up the other end Whyman did well to pluck a shot out of the air with the attackers circling.
A comedy moment brought a big roar from the sideline, the Sydney FC coach reaching to catch a stray ball and his white plastic seat collapsing underneath him. Smiles all round. The ball crew were also raising a laugh, instructed to place the ball at the players’ feet instead of their hands, and it looked like an offering to the gods. The Jets players were getting agitated with it, much to our amusement. Half time arrived and Hawkesby was left speaking into a microphone as if about to burst into song as her teammates walked down the tunnel.
A quick catch up with Jets legend Todd and a browse of what the cameras were seeing was enough to fill the void of half-time. Charlie Rule was getting attention from the fans clad in white on the far side of the field, one holding up a sign for Valentines Day.
The second half was exciting. With Sydney only a solitary goal in front, that could change at any moment. The Sky Blues tried their best to break down the Jets defence, Vine could have done better when she skinned her player down the right, corners caused mayhem and the silky Rachel Lowe patrolled the edge of the area waiting to pounce on any loose ball. But it was Newcastle who could and should have taken the lead, a long ball finding their striker clean through, but the shot was tame. Whyman then pulled off a Bruce Grobelaar TV save to clutch a shot from distance like a cat catching a butterfly. Our Matildas had been sacrificed by now, Satchell on and showing her speed.
A Jets player was poleaxed by a ball to the face which delayed proceedings, but we would see that time added on. Sydney had run out of ideas and there was one last push by the home team which brought a corner deep into stoppage time. Up came the keeper, keen to add to her heroics, and she opted to do an interpretive dance in the area instead of challenging for the ball. The tall timber rose to crowd out Whyman and the loose ball was bundled home to crazed celebrations from the home fans and players. Just as we contemplated what we had just seen, the referee was seen chatting with the assistant, and the foul was awarded, the Jets player adjudged to have jumped into the keeper. Disbelief all round, and ironic cheers from the Sydney contingent for yet another win and another clean sheet, however fortuitous.
In a bizarre twist to the evening, the majority of he players disappeared into the tunnel. Only those with family members in the crowd spent a moment or two chatting. Eventually, once Charlie’s Valentine had popped the question in person and Rachel had found her Prince Charming, the remaining five players were cajoled into a celebration with the eager fans. Well received, and definitely made our journey home more palatable. Shane got us up to date with the reason for the goal being disallowed, tenuous at best!
It was approaching 10pm now, and we had a good journey ahead of us. Aurelia spotted Jada Whyman in the car next to us as we drove out of Newcastle and got a wave, and that showed just how eager the players were to get out of the stadium and back home on this school night. No post match analysis, no talking to the media, boom straight outta there.
Anna’s playlist kept the celebratory vibe going all the way back to Sydney and we rolled in the driveway at 11.45pm and straight to bed. What a great decision to go. Our last chance to see Sydney play until the finals series, and a game full of incident and talking points that capped off a cracking wekend of football. More please.
A massive thanks to Todd for the great photos from his majestic camera. It’s like your on the field with the players!