Spirited Jets progress after claiming epic final

The Newcastle Jets have defeated Gold Coast United after a dramatic penalty shootout in their knockout Hyundai A-League Semi-Final at Skilled Park this evening.

The Newcastle Jets have defeated Gold Coast United after a dramatic penalty shootout in their knockout Hyundai A-League Semi-Final at Skilled Park this evening.

In a gallant display of determination and team spirit, the Novocastrians played out a 0-0 stalemate with the glamour club during the regular 90 minutes of the match, plus the half-hour of extra-time, and held their nerve to win 6-5 on penalties.

Despite going into the match rated as underdogs, the Jets started brightly enough with Iraqi international Ali Abbas blazing a shot barely wide of the left post in only the 2nd minute after receiving the ball from the industrious Sean Rooney.

Much of the first half then turned out to be an arm-wrestle as both sides set out their stall in a cagey manner.

The visitors had two decent chances to open the scoring through Korean livewire Jin-Hyung Song, who narrowly missed the target from distance with piercing left-footed strikes that had Gold Coast custodian Jess Vanstratten scrambling.

However, United will perhaps view the opening stanza as an opportunity missed as recently-crowned Hyundai A-League Golden Boot winner Shane Smeltz went one-on-one with Jets ‘keeper Ben Kennedy in the 28th minute. In what seemed the perfect opening to break the deadlock, Smeltz hesitated allowing the 23-year-old shotstopper to make the first of many fine saves in a match-winning performance.

Moments later and Smeltz-s strike partner Joel Porter would be played clean through on goal, chipping the onrushing Kennedy, only to have his effort cleared off the line by a desperate and impressive Nikolai Topor-Stanley.

Ten minutes after the interval Jobe Wheelhouse looked to write his name on the scoresheet when he played a one-two with skipper Matt Thompson. The tireless midfielder hit a thunderous left-footed drive which Vanstratten did well to tip over the bar.

It was the home side that would look the most likely for the remainder of the second period, though, with Porter and Qantas Socceroo Jason Culina both having clear looks at goal in a purple patch for United midway through the half. However, despite the talented duo hitting powerful volleys on target, it would be Kennedy-s night as he made superb reflex saves to keep the match scoreless to send it into extra-time.

In the additional 30 minutes both sides pressed for what would ultimately end up an unattainable goal.

Jets youngster Mirjan Pavlovic made an impact after being brought on for Labinot Haliti, and the 20-year-old striker very nearly stole the match for the visitors when he broke away from the defence in the 102nd minute of the epic encounter. Bearing down on goal, and seemingly with only Vanstratten to beat, Pavlovic-s lung-busting run was undone by an incredible sliding tackle by United defender Bas Van Den Brink, who got a foot in just at the vital moment.

With time winding down and the intensity of the occasion lifting, Smeltz and substitute James Brown caused havoc down the other end. Both had opportunities to clinch a dramatic winner, but Kennedy and indefatigable right-back Tarek Elrich stood tall to deny them and keep a hard-earned clean sheet in the process.

Indeed, with only minutes remaining in the marathon match, Jets central defenders Topor-Stanley and Ljubo Milicevic also had chances to score, but both headed inches wide of the target.

So, at the conclusion of the match, neither side could break the deadlock, sending the sudden-death encounter into a dreaded penalty shootout.

With spot-kick scores at 6-5 and faced with the prospect of having to save the next penalty for the Jets to progress to the next stage of the Hyundai A-League Finals Series, Kennedy dived to his left and swatted away Zenon Caravella-s effort with his right-hand to give Newcastle a memorable victory.

After the match, Jets boss Branko Culina was naturally thrilled, and relieved, by the grit and resilience that his side displayed.

“It wasn-t a classic game, certainly both teams can play better, but it was all about who wanted it more. We were desperate and they were desperate but in the end we rode our luck and it was great character building for our team,” said Culina.

“It doesn-t matter who we play, Wellington or Perth next round, they-re in for a tough game.”

Indeed Culina was optimistic when quizzed on how far Newcastle can go in the Hyundai A-League Finals Series.

“Anything is possible,” he remarked.

The Jets will return home to Newcastle on Sunday, when they will find out whether their opponent for their next sudden-death finals fixture will be Wellington Phoenix or Perth Glory.

Match Details: Gold Coast United: 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 3.Michael THWAITE, 5.ROBSON (18.James BROWN 95-), 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 8.ANDERSON, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 11.Charlie MILLER (36.Dino DJULBIC 57-), 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14.Joel PORTER (17.Matt OSMAN 114-), 16.Kristian REES Unused substitutes: 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS Yellow cards: Robson 27-, Michael Thwaite 73- Red cards: Nil

Newcastle Jets: 1. Ben KENNEDY (gk), 3. Adam D-APUZZO, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY, 5. Ljubo MILICEVIC, 7. Jin-Hyung SONG, 8. Matt THOMPSON (c), 11. Tarek ELRICH, 12. Jobe WHEELHOUSE (22. Kaz PATAFTA 81-), 15. Sean ROONEY (9. Sasho PETROVSKI 64-), 25. Labinot HALITI (29. Mirjan PAVLOVIC 71-), 26. Ali ABBAS Unused substitutes: 30. Dion SHAW (gk), 31. Taylor REGAN Yellow cards: Mirjan Pavlovic 90+2- Red cards: Nil

Gold Coast United: 0 Newcastle Jets: 0 Referee: Matthew Breeze Crowd: 4,109 Penalty Shootout: Gold Coast United: 5 (Culina, Djulbic, Thwaite, Anderson, Smeltz) Newcastle Jets: 6 (Elrich, Petrovski, Patafta, Thompson, Milicevic, Topor-Stanley)