Newcastle Jets proved their fighting spirit is well and truly in tact on Saturday, coming from behind late in their clash against Western Sydney Wanderers to earn a 1-1 draw against the 2014 AFC Champions League winners at Hunter Stadium.
Korean left side utility Lee Ki-je stepped up in added time to send Wanderers goalkeeper and former Jets custodian Ante Covic the wrong way and ensure the Novocastrians left the round 17 fixture with a point to their credit. Lee’s leveller came after Nick Cowburn’s cross into the box was handled by Western Sydney defender Antony Golec.
Mere minutes earlier it seemed Tony Popovic’s team had found a way to defeat the defensively sound Jets on their home patch after they too found the net from the penalty spot. Like Golec, former Wanderer Daniel Mullen – now a key member of Newcastle’s defence – was deemed to have handled the ball in the area. Mullen’s indiscretion opened an opportunity for Brendon Santalab to open the scoring, which he took.
But the Jets refused to concede defeat and according to Head Coach Phil Stubbins post-match, the draw was just reward for his team’s effort against a Wanderers side – despite their current ranking on the Hyundai A-League ladder – flush with experience and talent.
“I am extremely happy for the group,” Stubbins said. “I think Tony [Popovic] has got a terrific team there on paper, a great team on paper, so for us to come back like we did, certainly with the youth that we had on the pitch is fantastic for everybody.”
“It is an indication for supporters that we’re trying to get people on board that want to play in the right way for us.
Stubbins said his men had spoken during the week about remaining positive in their matches and fighting to the final whistle no matter what situation they found themselves in during the game.
He admitted that falling behind in the 86th minute was a “blow”, but was delighted his side found a way to salvage a draw.
And he said he hopes fans enjoyed watching the club’s eVent Cinemas Glendale Performance of the Week winner, Lee Ki-je, in the flesh.
“I think it’s great for everyone to see Ki-je finally have a run for the team,” he said. “To score the goal like he did, perform like he did, will suggest to everyone that we have a bit of a gem there at 23 years of age.”
“I think the boys would say that they are satisfied with the outcome, [but] more so the performance. It’s not a win, so we’re short of that.”
“Some of our senior players really stood up and the younger boys really tried to match everyone that was playing around them.”
“Everyone to a man put in a real shift for the team and the club,” he said.
Until the two late goals Saturday’s match between the Jets and Wanderers was devoid of too many moments of drama.
Tomi Juric twice tested Ben Kennedy in the first 45, though the Newcastle shot-stopper was up to both the Socceroos’ efforts.
Jets skipper Taylor Regan headed over the bar in the 54th minute after Andrew Hoole’s ball into the box, while Lee sent a shot straight at Covic two minutes later.
Kennedy dropped low to catch another Juric effort with about 20 minutes remaining.
But it was in the final 10 minutes of the contest that the two penalties were awarded and converted as the spoils were shared.
Newcastle Jets 1 (Lee 90+2’ (pen))
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Santalab 86’ (pen))
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Referee: Lucien Laverdure
eVent Cinemas Glendale ‘Performance of the Week’: Lee Ki-je
Newcastle Jets: 3. Taylor REGAN (C), 5. Ben KANTAROVSKI (28. Braedyn CROWLEY 88’), 8. Zenon CARAVELLA, 11. Andrew HOOLE (27. Radovan PAVICEVIC 75’), 12. Sam GALLAGHER, 13. Edson MONTANO, 16. Jacob PEPPER (19. Mitch COOPER 77’), 20. Ben KENNEDY (Gk), 21. Daniel MULLEN, 22. Lee KI-JE, 26. Nick COWBURN
Substitutes not used: 1. Jess VANSTRATTAN, 18. Allan WELSH
Yellow cards: Regan, Mullen
Red cards: Nil
Western Sydney Wanderers: 1. Ante COVIC (Gk), 3. Yusuke TANAKA, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (C), 5. Brendan HAMILL, 6. Antony GOLEC, 7. Labinot HALITI (2. Shannon COLE 56’), 8. Mateo POLJAK, 9. Tomi JURIC (11. Brendon SANTALAB 77’), 10. Yojiro TAKAHAGI (33. Nick KALMAR 63’), Nikita RUKAVYTSYA, 13. Matthew SPIRANOVIC
Substitutes not used: 20. Dean BOUZANIS (Gk), 23. Jason TRIFIRO
Yellow cards: Topor-Stanley, Golec
Red cards: Nil