It had the makings of a red-letter day for the Newcastle Jets – a new A-League season and the start of a new era.
Marquee man Emile Heskey was on deck to lead the line, surrounded by a squad hand-picked to play an exciting brand of football.
Adelaide United had travelled 33 hours to get to Newcastle after their dramatic 3-2 loss in extra time to Bunyodkor in Tashkent on Wednesday to crash out of the Asian Champions League.
If that wasn’t enough, Adelaide had two key men out on suspension and another two missing with injury.
The sun was shining and there was a buzz about the 14,868 Jets faithful who had filed into Hunter Stadium hoping – expecting – a winning start to the campaign.
The buoyant mood lasted 59 seconds.
That is how long it took for fringe Socceroo Dario Vidosic to cash in on a beautiful piece of lead-up work from Argentine Jeronimo Neumann and give the visitors the lead.
The Jets never recovered. By full-time it was 2-0.
Completing a day of frustration, former Adelaide keeper Mark Birighitti marked his debut for the Jets with a red card in the 57th minute.
On a good note, Heskey got through 70 minutes unscathed.
There were other positives, but overall it was a deflating rather than uplifting afternoon.
‘‘First minute we have copped a goal from a lack of focus,’’ Jets coach Gary van Egmond said. ‘‘Then you are chasing the game. Straight away you are on the back foot.’’
Despite the early setback, the Jets controlled possession for much of the first half.
Craig Goodwin, who played in midfield, was dangerous down the left and Ruben Zadkovich went on a couple of slalom runs on the right.
But the slick passing and movement off the ball, a feature in the pre-season, was rarely seen.
The Jets were playing into a howling southerly in the first half against an Adelaide side content to suffocate rather than force the issue.
The Jets had a couple of half chances from corners, which Adelaide scrambled to cover, and Dominik Ritter was unable to get enough on a chance at the far post a minute before the break.
‘‘To the boys’ credit, we controlled the game in the first half,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘We probably needed to create more clear-cut opportunities, but the control of the game was by us.
‘‘Second half, being with the wind and looking forward to doing the same, we were confident we would get something out of the game.
‘‘Unfortunately we did not count on the fact we were going to get a player sent off, which changed the complexion of the game completely.’’
With 57 minutes gone and the Jets down 1-0, Birighitti raced out of his area to challenge a runaway Vidosic.
The keeper had his arms spread when he leapt into the air to block a shot from Vidosic. The ball struck him on the midriff then deflected onto the underside of his left arm, giving debutant referee Shaun Evans little choice but to produce a red card.
Heskey put in a solid if not memorable shift.
His replacement, James Virgili, forced a hurried save by Eugene Galekovic at the near post with his first touch.
But any hope the Jets had of snatching a point evaporated 15 minutes from time when Vidosic burst down the right and delivered an inch-perfect cross in behind for Iain Ramsay to tap in.
Reds coach John Kosmina, who was without Sergio van Dijk, Jon McKain (both injured) and the suspended Iain Fyfe and Fabian Barbiero, was naturally thrilled with the performance.
‘‘It’s been a long week,’’ said Kosmina, referring to the 22,000-kilometre journey from Adelaide to Tashkent and then on to Newcastle.
The Jets will be without Birighitti for the clash against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, the first home game for the Sky Blues’ star import Alessandro Del Piero.
Van Egmond said he was likely to stick with the 3-2-2-3 formation he used yesterday.
‘‘We are looking to play an attacking brand of football,’’ he said. ‘‘When you do that it is obviously quite risky from a counterattack point of view.
‘‘I had a lot of faith in the back three today and overall I thought they were excellent. We will continue to look at that.
‘‘I think you have an onus of making the football you play exciting football. I hope people enjoyed the way we played today.’’