NEWCASTLE Jets reclaimed a top-six berth and left Sydney FC languishing in the A-League cellar with a 2-1 victory at Hunter Stadium.
Flying high after winning four of their first six games, the Jets had slipped alarmingly down the table after taking just one competition point from their past five fixtures.
After Wellington's 1-all draw with Central Coast in an earlier game, the Phoenix leapfrogged Newcastle into sixth position because of a superior goal differential.
But within hours, Newcastle were back at the business end of the ladder, climbing to 16 points, three ahead of Wellington and one adrift of fifth place.
Sydney, who have now lost eight of their first 12 games, are six points behind the play-off placings and running out of time to mount a challenge for the finals.
The Jets, who had lost three straight games and been kept scoreless in each of those defeats, broke their goal drought in spectacular fashion in the 13th minute.
After Sydney defender Fabio was yellow-carded for a foul on Newcastle winger James Virgili, Jets youngster Craig Goodwin lined up the free kick from just outside the box on the right flank.
With pinpoint accuracy, the natural left-footer defied an acute angle to curl his shot into the top-left corner, beating Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic.
It was Newcastle's first goal in 286 minutes.
Hoodoo exorcised, the home team wasted no time in doubling their lead.
Once again, Virgili was the architect, breaching Sydney's defences in the 26th minute with fancy footwork before setting up marquee striker Emile Heskey, who gleefully converted the tap-in.
It was Heskey's sixth goal of the season and ended a five-game barren streak.
If the 2-0 scoreline was not daunting enough for Sydney, the loss of Socceroos veteran Brett Emerton in the 30th minute put another dent in their confidence.
Emerton was replaced, reportedly because he was "unwell", by rookie Peter Triantis.
Two minutes later, the visitors breathed life into the contest with a goal against the run of play by striker Yairo Yau, after he dispossessed Newcastle defender Connor Chapman.
Yau's first shot was saved by Jets goalkeeper Mark Birighitti, but he pounced on the rebound to make it 2-1.
His goal continued Newcastle's record of having conceded a goal in every game this season.
It almost became 2-all immediately after the resumption, when Sydney midfielder Ali Abbas intercepted a header from Jets defender Scott Neville to Birighitti but was unable to snatch the opportunity.
As was the case in round two, when Newcastle beat Sydney 3-2 at Allianz Stadium, it was another entertaining spectacle for the vocal crowd of 17,402, Newcastle's largest attendance since their championship-winning 2007-08 campaign.
Sydney superstar Alessandro Del Piero produced his usual classy touches, in particular in the 83rd minute when he skilfully controlled possession and played Yau into open space, only for a wayward finish.
A knee injury denied Sydney midfielder Jason Culina the chance to square off with the club he left in acrimonious circumstances last year.
Culina and his father, former Newcastle coach Branko, were offloaded by Jets owner Nathan Tinkler 14 months ago after the Socceroos midfielder suffered a recurrence of a career-threatening knee problem.
Culina had played five times since joining Sydney in the off-season but was rested last night.
His latest setback was reportedly not related to the injury that prevented him from playing a single game for Newcastle after signing a lucrative three-year deal.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond made a number of positional changes, again reshuffling his back four.D
efender Samuel Gallaway, who had not played in the A-League since February, 2011, was recalled for his sixth game in Newcastle's top team, and experienced Josh Mitchell was relegated to the substitutes' bench.
Goalkeeper Birighitti made a surprise return from a broken cheekbone he suffered a month ago, replacing Matthew Nash.