Bridges rises from ashes to sink Phoenix

THE Newcastle Jets did not want to be in Wellington last night, but they will be delighted  that Football Federation Australia rescheduled their final-round clash after a hoodoo-breaking 2-1 win over the last-placed Phoenix.

It was the Jets’ first victory at Westpac Stadium since their maiden trip to the ‘‘Cake Tin’’ on September 9, 2007.

The win was engineered by reborn former Leeds striker Michael Bridges and kept the Jets firmly in sight of a play-off berth. 

Starting his third game in a row after seeing little action this season, Bridges was all class in the No.10 role, creating chances and scoring himself just before the break. 

Adam Taggart, who was also starting his third match in a row after an interrupted run, stepped up to fill the gap left by Ryan Griffiths’s shock transfer to Beijing Baxy to score his first goal in Jets colours in the 19th minute. Ex-Jets striker Jeremy Brockie grabbed one back in the 60th minute, but Newcastle held on under intense pressure in the final half-hour.

The shock omission of Griffiths, the club’s equal leading goal-scorer, further complicated the  difficult road trip. But  coach Gary van Egmond said Griffiths’s departure was handled well by his players. 

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‘‘It sort of happened while we were here, so it wasn’t probably as bad as it would have been if we were at home,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘It was probably best we had an away game.

‘‘It was more so because we were here and the boys don’t see as much media, as you know what it’s like in Newcastle where it’s fairly saturated with the football in the city.’’

Phoenix also backed up for their second game in four days and were dealing with their  own turmoil.

Foundation coach Ricki Herbert stepped down on Tuesday after mounting pressure on the cellar dwellers. Former player Chris Greenacre stepped in for his first match in charge. 

A paltry crowd of 4025 turned out for the game,  which was moved from March 31 to avoid clashes with New Zealand’s World Cup qualifiers.

The rescheduling angered van Egmond and CEO Robbie Middleby as it forced the Jets into playing four games in 14 days.

The Jets had lost eight straight at Westpac Stadium before securing a 1-1 draw last month. 

 The Novocastrians found themselves in unfamiliar territory at half-time with a 2-0 lead. 

Phoenix made a spritely start under Greenacre, as the  Yellow Fever supporters group unfurled a ‘‘Sir Ricki’’ banner for their former coach.

But the Jets should have been in front in the 15th minute when marquee man Emile Heskey dragged a shot wide after a dummy from Bridges put him through one-on-one with keeper Glen Moss.  

 Four minutes later  Taggart scored the opener.

Josh Brillante made a run from right back and crossed into the box, where Taggart peeled off his defender and nailed   a swinging right-foot strike.

Bridges with his movement and clever touches was becoming increasingly dangerous as the half wore on.

A poor touch from Heskey ruined some slick interplay between Taggart and Bridges in the 35th minute.

In the 39th minute van Egmond was forced to replace Zenon Caravella (hamstring) with right back Andrew Hoole, pushing Josh Brillante into  midfield.

Hoole made an instant impact in the 43rd minute when he pushed forward on the right and was clumsily brought down by Phoenix veteran Paul Ifill.

Craig Goodwin swung the free kick into the box and Bridges stooped to head home the second goal and his 10th for the Jets.

The match should have been out of Phoenix’s reach by half-time, but they were back in it on the hour  when a poor header from centre back Taylor Regan to goalkeeper Mark Birighitti was intercepted by Louis Fenton.

Fenton’s shot smashed into Birighitti’s surgically repaired face at point-blank range.

Regan, another player back in favour in recent matches, again miscued his clearance and the ball bounced favourably for Brockie to slam home a half-volley. 

Brockie had a final chance  in injury time off another skewed clearance from the normally assured Regan,  but his volley flashed wide.

‘‘In the first half I thought we played some really good football,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘We were pretty composed and kept the ball at times and I thought we really controlled that game. In the second half we stopped playing and we didn’t look to play out enough when we should have when we had goal kicks and set pieces in our own half.’’

Van Egmond said Heskey and Bridges would be rested for Sunday’s match against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Stadium  and extra troops would be flown from Newcastle.

  Caravella will almost certainly miss the match, and left back Sam Gallaway is in doubt  with a suspected hyper-extension of his knee.

 ‘‘We stated already that we’ll rotate the squad with the heavy schedule. We played Brisbane last Friday, obviously Wellington tonight and Melbourne Victory on Sunday and then Perth the following Friday.’’

For the latest scores in the Men of Football's Ray Baartz Medal voting, click here.

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