NEWCASTLE lost midfielder Tori Huster at half-time and defender Natasha Prior with half an hour to play but there were no excuses from coach Craig Deans after the Jets went down 5-2 to Melbourne City on Sunday.
A draw at AAMI Park would have been enough to send Newcastle to the outright W-League ladder lead after three rounds, and the Jets were up 2-1 after 20 minutes thanks to a double from Katie Stengel.
The US striker pounced on two mistakes in the City defence, the first an embarrassing error from Matildas keeper Lydia Williams in the 16th minute.
Kyah Simon had put City up in the fifth minute with a left-foot finish after Nikola Orgill failed to control a cross from Ashley Hatch.
The Jets equalised when Williams then slipped while attempting a clearing kick and Stengel was on the spot to knock the loose ball into an open net.
The visitors went ahead when Matildas defender Alanna Kennedy missed a deflected ball and Stengel ran onto the chance and beat Williams at the near post with a clinical left-foot strike.
The star-studded City line-up, though, took control in the warm conditions and dominated possession.
The hosts equalised in 45th minute after Emily Van Egmond got a foot to a City cross only for it to fall to Larissa Crummer, who turned and shot close to goal to score.
Huster was substituted at half-time because of a toe injury and Orgill was replaced. Clare Wheeler and Sophie Nenadovic gave Newcastle fresh legs but City were unstoppable.
They led 3-2 in the 54th minute when Jess Fishlock scored with an acrobatic right-foot shot off a Steph Catley cross.
Prior was taken off in the 62nd minute after copping a powerful, deflected strike in the jaw.
Crummer had a tap-in for 4-2 in the 71st minute after Hatch hit the crossbar. Fishlock then grabbed her double with a cracking strike from distance in the 77th minute.
The heavy defeat came after Newcastle had raised expectations with home wins over Western Sydney and Sydney FC.
Deans said his side looked off the pace against City and got what they deserved.
“Their starting 11 on paper is very, very strong, but we knew that, we knew what was coming,” Deans said.
“Today we just weren’t good enough to deal with it. When you don’t play well, you have to put your hand up.
“They played good football and deserved to win. They are a good team, but we want to be a good team as well.
“We can’t sit here every time we play a good team and say it’s all right to lose. We just need to change that mentality a bit as well.”
He said individual errors cost the Jets, who host Canberra at No.2 Sportsground on Sunday in round four. Newcastle are one of four teams on six points and sit third on goal difference.
“With the ball today, we just weren’t good enough,” he said. “You lose confidence with the ball and then defensively you stop working like you should and you end up with the result we got.”
“It’s out of the way now. We just need to look at the game, acknowledge everything we didn’t do well as quickly as we can because we want to get back to winning a game next week.”