The Newcastle Jets were defeated 4-1 by Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
While the Jets enjoyed their share of territory and possession, chances were few and far between for the visitors and they were punished by a clinical Wellington side who delighted their home crowd with some often-missed ruthlessness in front of goal.
The Jets went close to opening the scoring inside the first minute with Joel Griffiths hitting the post with his diving header following an Andrew Hoole cross.
Former Jet Nathan Burns, who spent the first part of last season on loan at the Hunter Stadium club, was on hand to haunt his old side, netting twice in the first half.
Both goals had an element of opportunism about them, with the opener - which arrived as early as the fourth minute - a poacher's finish at the back post following some excellent lead-up play by McGlinchey.
McGlinchey was the provider again two minutes before the break, releasing Burns in behind the Jets' defence. The 26-year-old's first shot was well saved by Mark Birighitti, but the visitors were unable to clear their lines, allowing Burns to bundle the ball home at the second attempt in almost comic fashion.
Burns returned the favour mid-way through the second half, driving at the Jets' defence on the counter to slip in McGlinchey, who finished unmarked from close range.
Clean through again in the 89th minute, Burns failed to claim what would have been a first hat-trick for a Wellington player in the Hyundai A-League.
Griffiths scored a consolation goal for the away side from the resulting counterattack, rising high to head home a Scott Neville cross.
The hosts had the last say though, skipper Andrew Durante nodding home at the back post from a free-kick in the 94th minute.
4 minutes – Nathan Burns (Phoenix)
Jeremy Brockie received the ball inside the penalty area but scuffed his left-footed shot across goal. Fortunately for the home side, it fell perfectly into the path of Nathan Burns who was untroubled to side-foot home from inside the six-yard box and get his 50th A-League game off to the perfect start.
42 minutes – Nathan Burns (Phoenix)
A sublime through-ball from Michael McGlinchey set Nathan Burns into a one-on-one showdown with Mark Birighitti. The Jets custodian did well to block Burns’ first effort, but as the ball squirted free, Burns crawled on all fours and somehow swung a leg at the ball, sending it trickling just over the line as Birighitti tried desperately to keep it out.
64 minutes – Michael McGlinchey (Phoenix)
Burns was set free down the right hand side by Vince Lia and used his pace to cut inside. With a shot on goal and the prospect of a hat-trick beckoning, Burns instead slid the ball across the face of goal to an unmarked McGlinchey who became the first man to score in each of this first three Wellington Phoenix matches.
90 minutes – Joel Griffiths (Newcastle)
Burns was released one-on-one and looked certain to score a hat-trick before a sliding intervention from Sam Gallaway. The Jets broke quickly upfield and James Virgili’s pinpoint cross was headed clinically home by Joel Griffiths from six yards out.
90 + 4 minutes – Andrew Durante (Phoenix)
With the last action of the game, Alex Rodriguez drifted a delicious free-kick to the far post where Andrew Durante stole in to head powerfully past an uncertain Birighitti, before leaping the advertising hoardings and celebrating with the jubilant punters enjoying some pitch-side hospitality.
The Phoenix’s second goal took the wind out of Newcastle’s sails just before the break. Set free in an almost identical situation to a fortnight ago when Perth goalkeeper Danny Vukovic had denied him, Burns almost blew another opportunity, but an unorthodox combination of determination and creativity saw him squeeze the ball home and give the Phoenix a much-needed two-goal half-time buffer.
Opta Data key stats
The stats will show the Jets had sixty percent of possession and played 200 more passes than their hosts, but were largely unable to trouble Glen Moss in the Phoenix goal.
The Wellington Phoenix have been waiting a long time to welcome Jeronimo Neumann to Wellington after his controversial “dive” while playing for Adelaide two seasons ago. An errant pass by Vince Lia late in the game put the Argentinean in on goal before a perfectly-timed last-ditch intervention from Andrew Durante took the ball away from him and left Jeronimo crumpled in the penalty area, much to the delight of the Yellow Fever.
The travel looks to finally be taking its toll on the Jets, with a third straight match on the road resulting in some heavy-legged Newcastle players. They were unable to cope with the energy of the home side and must now contemplate another arduous journey to Perth next weekend.
The Final Word
It took the Wellington Phoenix eleven rounds to register a win last season; they now have consecutive victories after three matches this term.
Ernie Merrick’s charges have become totally comfortable playing his possession-based passing game and now also have the players to create – and finish – the chances which were so often been spurned last season.
Newcastle simply had no answer to the pace of Burns and McGlinchey and were unable to fashion anything themselves in the attacking third. Marcos Flores was quiet and Edson Montaño looked to be feeling the effects of a third tough road match in succession.
Wellington Phoenix: Moss, Muscat, Sigmund, Durante, Doyle (Fenton), Riera, Bonevacia, Rodriguez, McGlinchey (Cunningham), Brockie (Lia), Burns.
Newcastle Jets: Birighitti, Neville, Jaliens, Gallagher, Carney, Caravella (Virgili), Griffiths, Flores, Pepper, Hoole (Gallaway), Montano (Neumann).
Scorers: Phoenix: Burns 4’, 42’, McGlinchey 64’, Durante 90+4’. Newcastle: Griffiths 90’
Red cards: n/a
Yellow cards: Jacob Pepper 21’
Conditions: Windy, scattered showers, 10 degrees