SHATTERED captain Jobe Wheelhouse was left to lament a wasted opportunity after the Jets’ A-League campaign came to a cruel end at Allianz Stadium last night.
A roller-coaster season finished on a gut-wrenching low when the Jets went down 3-2 to Sydney FC in front of a crowd of 14,494, including a strong contingent of visiting fans.
Needing only a draw to seal a place in the play-offs, the Jets were outgunned by a desperate Sky Blues side inspired by marquee midfielder Brett Emerton and a brace from rookie striker Joel Chianese.
Brazilian Bruno Cazarine set the tone when he angled home a header to put the home side up after 11 minutes.
The Jets hit back through Michael Bridges in the 26th minute, but two goals in three minutes to Chianese put Sydney on their way.
Wheelhouse provided late hope for the visitors with a header in the 84th minute, but they could not find an equaliser.
The Jets, instead of preparing for a sudden-death final against Wellington Phoenix, will front this morning for Mad Monday thinking of what might have been.
‘‘As a group we have not fulfilled our talent,’’ Wheelhouse said. ‘‘Tonight we did not play as well as we would have liked. A few senior boys, me included, let the team down.
‘‘Overall, we probably deserved to be in the finals, and that is the most disappointing thing. It was a wasted opportunity, for sure.
‘‘We have been through a fair bit of adversity this year, but we are a pretty strong group of players. It is just disappointing that we fell at the final hurdle.’’
Jets coach Gary van Egmond made four changes, two forced, to the side that lost 2-1 to Brisbane the previous week.
Taylor Regan came in for the suspended Tiago, Jacob Pepper was added to a reshaped midfield, Ryan Griffiths returned from injury and Michael Bridges replaced the injured Francis Jeffers.
Sydney’s plan was clear from the outset – play direct and put pressure on up the field.
Maybe it was the fact the Jets needed only a draw, but the visitors appeared nervous early. They pushed risky passes, were tentative and off the pace.
They found themselves a goal down early when Emerton collected an attempted clearance from Nikolai Topor-Stanley near the right touchline. The Socceroos regular took a touch and delivered an inch-perfect cross to Cazarine, who got in front of Topor-Stanley at the near post and powered a header past Ben Kennedy.
The goal sparked the Jets into action.
They were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Terry McFlynn collected Michael Bridges.
Referee Chris Beath ruled the foul was committed inches outside the penalty area, but replays showed it was touch and go.
The Jets picked themselves up and levelled in the 26th minute after a piece of individual brilliance from Ruben Zadkovich.
The right back burned past Emerton and McFlynn in a slalom run before squaring a pass across the face goal for Bridges to tap home at the back post.
But the joy was short-lived.
Four minutes later, Sydney centre back Pascal Bosschaart knocked a ball over the top for Chianese, whose shot took a wicked deflection off the boot of Griffiths and ballooned over Kennedy.
There was no luck about Sydney’s third.
Emerton again showed his class to pick out Chianese, who took two touches and slotted past Kennedy.
Van Egmond introduced Jeremy Brockie for Zadkovich at half-time and went to a back three.
Despite a larger percentage of possession, the Jets lacked a cutting edge.
Ali Abbas had a couple of half chances, but Sydney keeper Ivan Necevski was largely untroubled.
Just as the game and the season appeared gone, the Jets found a lifeline.
Abbas swung a free kick into the box. Topor-Stanley got in front of his man only for his header to crash into the crossbar. But Wheelhouse was on the spot to head home the rebound.
The Jets had a final chance in injury time when replacement Tarek Elrich burst clear on the counter and crossed to Jeremy Brockie.
But the New Zealand international’s header sailed wide.