Turnaround puts Jets back in play-offs mix

CLEANSHEET: Jets rookie keeper Neil Young keeps a close eye on the action yesterday.- Picture by Dean Osland
CLEANSHEET: Jets rookie keeper Neil Young keeps a close eye on the action yesterday.- Picture by Dean Osland

FOUR days after their worst performance of the season, the Newcastle Jets overcame the loss of goalkeeper Ben Kennedy in the warm-up to overpower North Queensland at EnergyAustralia Stadium last night and breathe life into their A-League campaign.

Matt Thompson struck first for the Jets in the 55th minute before Michael Bridges added a penalty six minutes from time to seal a deserved three competition points.

In truth, the scoreline could have been far greater had it not been for the heroics of Fury shot stopper Paul Henderson.

The win was the Jets' fourth for the season, all at home, and lifted them off the bottom of the ladder to 16 points, a point outside the six.

The performance was a massive turnaround from the lame 3-0 loss to Wellington on Wednesday and was enough for coach Branko Culina to boldly declare the Jets were a "finals team".

"I think we are," Culina said.

"If we can get a bit of momentum going and have our best squad available we can hurt every team in the competition.

"We have beaten Gold Coast, we have beaten Central Coast, in my opinion we were very unlucky against Melbourne and Sydney.

"They are the front runners so what is there to be afraid of?"

The night could not have started worse for the home side.

Ten minutes before kick-off Kennedy limped off the ground with a groin injury, thrusting Neil Young into the spotlight for an unexpected A-League debut.

Although rarely tested, the 30-year-old, who had played the first half in youth league, didn't miss a beat.

"He was excellent," Culina said.

"He kept a clean sheet, what a way to mark your debut."

Playing with a three-pronged strike force, the Jets dominated from the outset but as has been the case all season little fell their way.

They had two strong claims for penalties turned down by referee Ryan Shepheard and bombarded the Fury goal.

If Young was nervous it didn't show.

He plucked a Chris Grossman cross out of the air in the third minute and rushed off his line to snatch the ball from feet of James Robinson 10 minutes later.

The opening half was all Newcastle.

Culina had obviously done his homework and looked to get in behind the Fury defence.

"I watched Fury live last week," the coach said. "[Left back Chris] Tadrosse likes to push forward and I felt if we had three up front they would have to be concerned with us, especially with Sean Rooney providing us with pace."

Song Jin-hyung and Fabio Vignaroli, who controversially missed the Wellington loss, controlled the midfield and it seemed a matter of when not if the Jets would open their account.

Rooney had a strong claim for a penalty when sent sprawling by Grossman, Haliti was twice denied by Henderson and Thompson and Song also had half chances.

Fury midfielder Osama Malik was forced from the field for five minutes with a bloodied nose and Robinson was stretchered off with a serious knee injury in the 39th minute but the visitors remained intact on the scoreboard.

Many of 6271 crowd had come specifically to watch Robbie Fowler, but the former Liverpool legend was rarely sighted in the first half.

After having a another call for a penalty denied in the 54th minute, the home side finally went ahead a minute later.

Haliti knocked a ball into Bridges on the left who crossed to the back post for Thompson to slot home from close range.

The goal looked to have broken the back of the visitors, but Henderson had other ideas.

The former Leicester City shot stopper single-handedly kept the Fury in the game with a series of spectacular saves.

The more the Jets pushed for a match-sealing second goal, the more frustrated they became.

But in a case of third time lucky, they put the game beyond doubt when Shepheard finally pointed to the spot after Bridges was brought down in a clumsy challenge by replacement Paul Kohler.

The former Leeds striker dusted himself off and then sent Henderson the wrong way, slamming a low drive into the left corner.

A despondent Fowler was at a loss to explain the disappointing effort.

"We went in to the game with our confidence sky high, but from the first whistle to the last we did not perform," he said.

"Probably only the keeper could come out of today's performance with credit.

"If it weren't for him it could have been a few more."