CENTRAL Coast Mariners fans unveiled a banner depicting Roy O’Donovan as a snake and booed his every touch. But the Irishmam had the last laugh, scoring a brilliant first-half hat-trick to propel the Newcastle Jets to a pulsating 5-1 victory over Central Coast Mariners in the season-opener at Gosford on Saturday night.
O’Donovan was public enemy No.1 on the Coast after defecting to their arch enemy, the Jets.
The 32-year-old was the Mariners leading goal-scorer with 11 last campaign – a third of their season total.
And he gave a reminder of what they were missing, scoring from the spot in the ninth minute and adding two more in the 28th and 38th.
If that wasn’t enough, he supplied an assist for replacement Joe Champness to score on debut in the 81st minute before Dimi Petratos produced a brilliant finish to ice the game in the 90th minute.
“I have scored goals against previous teams before,” O’Donovan said. “I thought it was a very good derby, that will go down as a classic game. The Mariners were very good, but we punished them. Our attacking play was excellent.”
O’Donovan expected the hostile reception.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said “I have been around the block a few times. All I am worried about is scoring goals and winning games.”
On his goals O’Donovan said: “it was great service and I timed my runs right. Sometimes you hit things cleaner and better and the keeper makes a save or it goes over. Everything just dropped into the net today.”
The 5-1 scoreline was the biggest win in the history of the F3 derby and only the third time in the Jets history they have netted five goals.
The Jets have only had two players score in double figures in their history. They had the worst attack with 28 goals last season and did not hit the target in their final five games.
Saturday night’s hat-trick, in front of 12044 fans, included six bays of Jets supporters, was O’Donovan’s first in the A-League.
Adam Taggart was the last player to score a treble for the Jets in a 3-1 win over Melbourne Heart in November 2013. He finished with 16 that season to collect the Golden Boot.
Ernie Merrick promised that the Jets would entertain and they certainly delivered.
Apart from O’Donovan, Andrew Nabbout was dynamic down the left and provided two assists, Petratos was dangerous and the midfield duo of Ben Kantarovski and Steve Ugarkovic dominant.
For the Mariners, Spanish import Asdrubal was a constant threat. He sniped and snipped and flung himself to the ground at every opportunity.
The Mariners scored first through Asdruval and although the Jets equalised from the penalty spot through O’Donovan three minutes later, the home side had the better of the game until the 25th minute.
But once Kantarovski and Ugarkovic started to boss the midfield, things turned quickly.
Kantraovski welcomed Asdrubal to the A-league with a crunching tackle in the 14th second.
But the Spaniard had the perfect reply, giving the home side the lead after five minutes from a corner.
Tom Hiariej swung a ball in from the left which skimmed the head of Jake McGing and fell for Asdrubal to bundle home.
The Mariners fans were still celebrating when the Jets equalised.
O’Donovan collected a ball over the top, took a touch inside and was collected by the shoulder of Alan Baro. The Mariners captain claimed his innocence but referee Jonathan Barreiro had no hesitation pointing to the spot. O’Donovan arrowed a spot kick into the right corner.
The goal was the Jets’ first in five A-League games, going back to 3-1 loss to Brisbane in round 22 last season.
The visitors were unlucky not to take the lead in the 20th minute. Nikolai Topor-Stanley headed a Dimi Petratos freekick into the post. The rebound fell for Nigel Boogaard who had his shot block on the line by Glover. The skippers repeat effort fit the side netting.
They wouldn’t be denied in the 28th minute, and it was that man O’Donovan again.
Petratos delivered a rasping cross to Nabbout on the left. He showed great control and found O’Donovan on the edge of the area. The Irishmen did the rest, swinging a left-foot shot into the left corner.
O’Donovan thought he had a hat-trick six minutes later when he got a foot to a Nabbout header only to be flagged for off-side.
Two minutes later, he had the treble, and again it was Nabbout with the assist. The winger swung in a cross from the left for O’Donovan who got in front of Anthony Golec and powered a header past Tom Glover.
The match threatened to erupt on the stroke of half-time after Steve Ugarkovic collected Josh Rose late. The veteran responded by shoving the Jets midfielder. Players from both teams converged. The result was a yellow card to each player.
Vargas, who was clever without being brilliant, was replaced in the 60th minute by Wayne Brown.
The chances dried up as the Jets started sit deeper and closed the game out.