Despite a cracking strike from Steve Ugarkovic and a strong second-half showing, the Newcastle Jets have narrowly gone down 2-1 to Sydney FC on Friday evening at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Caretaker boss Craig Deans made two changes for his first lineup since taking over after the departure of Ernie Merrick with Abdiel Arroyo and Nick Fitzgerald coming in for Patrick Langlois and Angus Thurgate.
Looking to put a tumultuous week behind us, the Jets started brightly and the returning Arroyo had the first chance as he got on the end of an early cross from Matt Millar. However, he could only direct his header at Redmayne as the home side fired an early shot across the bow.
Sydney were prepared to sit back and absorb early pressure, but found the back in the net in the 14th minute when Milos Ninkovic and Kosta Barbarouses combined to find Adam Le Fondre who finished from close range to open the scoring for the visitors.
Despite the setback, the Jets continued with their positive approach to the match and were rewarded just eight minutes later thanks to a cracking strike from a somewhat unexpected source.
After Arroyo played the ball back to Ugarkovic on the edge of the area, the powerhouse midfielder faked to shoot on his left, before shifting the ball onto his right and unleashing an unstoppable effort past Andrew Redmayne to level the scores after 22 minutes.
In a see-sawing encounter, it was the visitors from Sydney who regained the lead in the 36th minute when Barbourses got on the end of a cross from Ninkovic. Newcastle almost levelled just moments later when Fitzgerald’s curling cross was met by Hoffman, but Redmayne made the block to keep his side ahead as the Sky Blues headed into the change rooms with the lead.
In the second stanza, the Jets went agonisingly close to an equaliser in the 53rd minute when Arroyo and Fitzgerald combined on the edge of the area, before Arroyo’s left-footed effort beat Redmayne, but not the crossbar before rebounding out to safety.
With the Jets controlling the match as the second half grew, Glen Moss was virtually a spectator, but after he enjoyed a rare touch in the 66th minute he immediately went down clutching his left leg and unfortunately was forced to leave the field. Lewis Italiano replaced him in the Jets goal for his first minutes since the FFA Cup Quarter Final against Adelaide United.
The visitors sat back and defended their lead as the Jets dominated possession, but despite half chances falling to Ugarkovic, along with second-half substitutes Kaine Sheppard & Angus Thurgate, the Jets were unable to find an equaliser as the Sky Blues held on to take all three points.
The Jets now travel to Melbourne in Round 15 to take on Melbourne City on Saturday 18 January at AAMI Park.