Sometimes the ugliest wins can be the most satisfying. That appeared the case for a relieved Sydney FC side that continued its road to redemption at the expense of an unlucky Newcastle Jets at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
Despite being outplayed for the most part, Sydney travelled back down the Pacific Highway with three points. They were outpaced and, at times, rode their luck but there was enough determination from the Sky Blues to clinch a second successive win after their season appeared to have been consigned to the scrap heap.
‘‘Huge three points for us. The past month has been a grind for everyone at the club,’’ Sydney FC coach Frank Farina said. If there was intent from the Sky Blues, it was not evident from kick-off as they were content to sit very deep in their own half, inviting the Jets to come forward without any significant pressure on the ball player.
From flank to flank, the hosts pulled the strings in midfield to stretch the Sky Blues structure. With barely a whimper of forceful pressure, it was not long before holes in the defence appeared. Striker Adam Taggart tried his luck from distance but could not find the swerve to beat Vedran Janjetovic in goal. Winger James Virgili followed suit and went even closer from range, striking a right-foot drive towards Janjetovic’s far post that drifted centimetres wide.
Sydney shrank from the contest before their marquee provided some much-needed inspiration after half an hour. Alessandro Del Piero robbed Jets captain Ruben Zadkovich of possession before sliding a clever through ball to Ranko Despotovic to put the Serbian striker through on goal. Despite having an unmarked Corey Gameiro to his left, Despotovic snapped a left-foot shot that was well saved by Mark Birighitti.
The break failed to tilt the scales in Sydney’s favour as the Jets’ mobility, speed and use of width increased. A quick one-two between Taggart and Zadkovich played the Jets skipper into space on the edge of the box but he could not beat Janjetovic.
Sydney spent an hour chasing shadows but, after one swift play, Newcastle were somehow chasing the game. Sasa Ognenovski had, for the most part, been just keeping up with the pace of the Jets but he had them chasing his heels in the box when he burst away from his marker to instinctively meet Del Piero’s corner in flight, thumping a powerful header into the net.
It prompted the change 12,449 fans were waiting for – the introduction of Newcastle’s favourite son, Joel Griffiths, who received louder applause than the man he replaced, marquee Emile Heskey. It added even more pace to the Jets attack and a goal seemed inevitable. One eventually arrived, though not for the team that deserved it.
Del Piero led a rare counterattack for Sydney, with only Taylor Regan to beat as he closed in on goal. The Italian jinked and, when the young defender committed, Sydney’s captain showed his years of experience to welcome the foul inside the box. He was not done then and salt was rubbed into the Jets’ wounds when Del Piero converted the resulting penalty to consolidate a gritty away win.
‘‘I thought, worst case for us, I thought [we’d get] a draw. I thought the game was headed for nil-nil,’’ Jets coach Clayton Zane said.
‘‘We talked about it at half-time and it was going to be one big moment from an individual that was going to turn the game on it’s head.’’