JETS coach Gary van Egmond says his players need to keep the faith after surrendering the top-six position they have held since round two of the A-League season in a heart-stopping 3-2 loss to Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Down 2-0 at half-time, the Jets rallied courageously with goals by Ruben Zadkovich (64th min) and Emile Heskey (72nd).
But within two minutes of restoring parity, Newcastle found themselves in arrears after Melbourne’s Marco Rojas produced his second stunning strike of the night.
After Wellington’s 3-2 win against Melbourne Heart on Thursday night, Newcastle needed at least a draw to retain a spot in the six.
Instead they slipped to the fifth defeat of their past seven games as in-form Victory climbed to third on the ladder.
The result was a reality check for the Jets after last week’s 2-1 win at home to struggling Sydney.
Newcastle will stay in Melbourne until Tuesday when they meet the Heart, who have slipped into the competition cellar, in what shapes as a must-win affair. Last night’s goals extended Newcastle’s unfortunate record of having conceded in every game this season.
They have now leaked 26 goals in 13 games.
Only Sydney have worse defensive statistics.
Newcastle are level with Wellington on 16 points, but the Phoenix have a superior for-and-against record.
It was the first game in which Heskey has scored that they have not won.
Van Egmond preferred to look on the positives and felt his team outplayed Melbourne for much of the game. As for their slide down the table, he saw no cause for panic.
‘‘It’s an extremely tight competition,’’ he said.
‘‘Last beat first last night. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day.
‘‘It’s about ensuring that you keep the belief and you keep tight and you keep working to what you believe is the right way of playing ... I think football-wise tonight was one of our better ones.
‘‘Sydney last week was good, tonight was good. So hopefully we can give another good performance against Heart.’’
Melbourne coach Ange Postecoglou admitted he would have preferred to have won in less dramatic circumstances.
‘‘Every club keeps saying they want to make their home ground a fortress – ours is an amusement park,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s just thrills every week. People are getting their money’s worth ... but there is plenty to be positive about.
‘‘We’re becoming a really, really dangerous force going forward.’’
Melbourne led 2-0 at the half-time break after quality finishes from strike weapons Archie Thompson and Rojas.
Newcastle hit back against the run of play when Zadkovich blasted a long-range missile into the bottom left-hand corner.
Heskey collected his seventh goal of the campaign eight minutes later when he lashed the ball into the roof of the net from close range after a goalmouth scramble.
But Rojas rendered that redundant with a matchwinning spin-and-shoot effort.
Rojas had opened the scoring in the 34th minute when he collected the ball on the left flank, improved his position slightly and let fly with a stunning long-range shot that beat the despairing dive of Jets goalkeeper Mark Birighitti.
Then in the last minute of the first half, Rojas laid the ball on for Thompson with only Birighitti to beat following a lightning break down the right.
There was drama in the 26th minute when Thompson played Rojas into space and he collided heavily with rookie Jets defender Sam Gallaway just outside the box.
Melbourne appealed for a send-off, but referee Kris Griffiths-Jones instead opted to book Gallaway.
Van Egmond recalled central defender Josh Mitchell after right fullback Scott Neville was rested due to hamstring tightness.
Dominik Ritter returned to left fullback, and Gallaway slotted in to Neville’s spot.
Melbourne had their own defensive makeover because they were without skipper Adrian Leijer and Socceroo Mark Milligan, both of whom were suspended.
In their absence teenage rookie Nicholas Ansell and versatile Leigh Broxham were handed the job of trying to shut down former England striker Heskey