A change in tactics and the return of skipper Nigel Boogaard wasn’t enough for the Newcastle Jets as they went down 2-1 to Wellington Phoenix in Round 16 at Sky Stadium on Friday afternoon.
The return of the Jets skipper from injury facilitated a change in shape as Boogaard slotted into a back three alongside Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Lachlan Jackson as Interim Head Coach Craig Deans gave more attacking freedom to fullbacks Matt Millar and Bobby Burns.
The visitors started brightly and looked comfortable with the new style and almost took an early lead when Jason Hoffman almost pounced on some indecision in the Wellington backline, before Arroyo headed the resulting corner wide.
The Panamanian had another chance in the 12th minute when Burns found the striker in space in the box, but Arroyo’s effort lacked accuracy and his powerful effort went over as the Jets continued to control the opening exchanges of the match.
There was cause for concern in the 23rd minute when Lachlan Jackson went down clutching his left knee, and the young defender was forced to leave the field as Johnny Koutroumbis took his place.
The change did nothing to disrupt the tempo of the match and the Jets continued to dominate proceedings and should have been rewarded in the 31st minute when a surging Matt Millar run resulted in the fullback squaring the ball to Hoffman, but unfortunately he could not keep his effort down and the chance was wasted.
Nigel Boogaard was the next to worry the Newcastle bench when he went down after a head clash with Ulises Davila, but the returning skipper was able to continue after having a head wound patched up.
The Jets then were inches away from opening the scoring in the 42nd minute when Millar found room on the edge of the Wellington penalty area, but his well-struck effort sailed just the wrong side of the post with Marinovic beaten.
Despite producing arguably our best first half of the season the Jets went into the sheds level at 0-0, but it was the Phoenix who took the lead against the run of play in the 53rd minute when substitute Jaushua Sotirio scored with virtually his first touch of the match after being played in behind the Jets defence.
The Jets continued to control the contest and pressure the Wellington backline into mistakes, and in the 66th minute when Abdiel Arroyo levelled the scores.
After seizing possession just outside the Phoenix penalty area, Dimi Petratos lined up a shot which rebounded off a Nix defender and fell perfectly for the Jets striker, who showed great poise before coolly slotted the ball past Marinovic to draw the away side level.
Just as the Jets had dragged themselves back into the contest, luck went against them once again in the 69th minute when Ulises Davila found himself in the right place, at the right time, as Alex Rufer’s deflected shot fell kindly for the Mexican to put Phoenix back into the lead.
The Jets continued to push hard for a deserved equaliser and it was only the heroics of Marinovic in the Wellington goal that denied the away side as he produced three outstanding saves to keep his side ahead in the final 15 minutes.
After earlier denying Boogaard’s bullet header from a Petratos corner in the 77th minute, the Phoenix shot-stopper saved the best for last as he then denied a long-range effort from Angus Thurgate in the 92nd minute, before producing an astonishing stop in the fifth and final minute of stoppage time to deny Kaine Sheppard levelling from point-blank range.
The Jets will now return home for Round 17, playing host Western United at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday 1 February.