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THE Newcastle Jets climbed back into the A-League top six and kept their play-off hopes alive with an entertaining 2-0 victory over fellow finals contenders Melbourne Heart at Hunter Stadium last night.
In front of a crowd of 11,396, former England striker Emile Heskey gave the Jets a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute then Ryan Griffiths secured the three points when he chipped over Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne in the 81st.
The Jets (26 points) leap-frogged the Heart and Sydney FC (both 24) into outright fifth position with six games remaining, though Sydney have a game in hand against fourth-placed Adelaide in Sydney tonight.
Newcastle coach Gary van Egmond promoted Michael Bridges, Adam Taggart and Taylor Regan to the starting side, and the shake-up had the desired effect.
Sparked by those three, and the energetic running of Zenon Caravella and Sam Gallaway, the Jets looked sharp and enthusiastic from the opening whistle.
‘‘Overall we had the mainstay of the game in regards to the controlling of it. I thought we always looked dangerous going forward, and it looked like we always had goals in us,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘There was a lot of energy, with Sammy and Josh Brillante getting up and down, then you had the likes of [captain] Ruben [Zadkovich] and obviously Zenon conducting the game.’’
Van Egmond was pleased with the combination of former England under-19 teammates Heskey and Bridges up front and indicated it would be difficult to break them up, though Heskey will be checked for hip flexor tightness in the lead-up to the game against Brisbane at Hunter Stadium next Friday.
Bridges and Heskey were given rousing receptions from the home fans when they were replaced in the 67th and 75th minutes, by Mitch Cooper and James Virgili, respectively.
As impressive as the Jets were last night, van Egmond said they had to reproduce that performance against the Roar and strive for another three points to build momentum and start a concerted run to the finals.
‘‘We just want to go out and ensure that we can show the members and supporters the type of football that we want to look to try and play, and I think from that display, hopefully we can keep getting that real support [because] the players themselves will benefit a lot from it in regards to confidence,’’ he said.
‘‘If you can get that and you can bottle it and before every game you give them a sip of it, you’d be fantastic. But we’ve just got to ensure that we do everything vigilant in regards to all the one and two per-centers with recovery, and ensuring that people do the right type of training during the week so that come day, they’re 100 per cent ready to go.
‘‘It’s great. I’m over the moon that we’ve won, I’m really happy for the members, and I’m really happy for the players, but it’s one game and it all starts again next week.’’
Heskey’s ninth goal of the season was a reward for Newcastle’s enterprising early play and gave the Jets a 1-0 lead, which they held until half-time.
Running on to a Griffiths pass, Heskey drilled the ball at Redmayne and the Heart goalkeeper got hands to the ball but could not keep it out.
Heskey was left unmarked in a similar position on the edge of the box five minutes later but the Heart scrambled to break up his pass intended for Bridges on the far post.
Melbourne striker Eli Babalj was never far from the action in the first half, hitting the right side netting in the 13th minute, the left post in the 25th, and forcing a save from Jets keeper Mark Birighitti just seconds before the half-time whistle.
The Jets deserved their early lead, but the Heart created chances on the counter-attack and it took some scrambling defence from Regan and Gallaway and Birighitti’s sharp reflexes to stop the visitors from equalising.
Though disappointed with the result, Heart coach John Aloisi said his team dominated periods of the game but could not convert their opportunities into goals.
‘‘After that bad start in the first 10 minutes, I thought we were playing quite well and started to create good chances, then when you’re on top of a team like that and you get those chances, it’s important you put them away,’’ the former Socceroos hero said.
‘‘I think that was something that would have changed the game tonight. During that 25 to 30-minute spell when we got on top, and Eli hit the post and we had a couple of good openings, if we’d scored there, it could have been a bit different. Then we started well again in the second half but after that we fell away and didn’t really cause them many problems.’’
Taggart had a chance for the Jets from just outside the box in the 40th minute after Brilliante’s incisive run down the right flank, then hit the post in the 65th after Caravella set him up. Released by Adelaide last month, Caravella was everywhere for Newcastle.
Only a minute before his pass to Taggart almost doubled the Jets’ lead, his slide tackle at the other end was enough to redirect David Williams’s potential equaliser over the bar and out of danger.
After a deft touch from substitute Cooper, Taggart provided the through ball for Griffiths to lob over Redmayne in the 81st minute to take his season tally to nine and seal the win.