It was one of those games that left you wondering how to feel when the final whistle blew.
The Jets held the undefeated, and well fancied Sydney FC to a 1-1 draw at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night after trailing for much of the evening.
Was the late comeback cause for celebration?
Was it exactly the reward Newcastle deserved?
Could the Jets have done a little more earlier in the game to shift the balance of control from a dominant Sydney FC?
Those were the questions running through my mind as I waddled up Turton Road after the final whistle, as well as wondering how Trap For Fools could hold off dual-continent Derby winners in the Mackinnon Stakes on Saturday afternoon, after getting run down in a handicap on a red-hot leaders’ track at Moonee Valley a fortnight earlier, denying me a tidy collect!
But I digress ... (maybe something in the name could provide a clue).
I remember thinking that for all of Sydney’s slick passing and controlled possession that they hadn’t threatened the Jets’ goal too often, and their goal had come from a goalkeeping error after a rare loss of defensive shape allowed Sydney fullback Rhyan Grant too much time to cross.
Then I thought back to last week’s column, where in discussing the difference between last season’s action-packed, energetic start, and this season’s comparatively modest beginning, I noted that rather than relying on gung-ho aggression, and the wave of momentum created, this time the Jets would need to show patience and maturity.
Was that the case on Saturday night?
Or were Sydney just too clever and too fluent, particularly in the first half?
Having come out all guns blazing the previous week against Melbourne Victory, were the Jets more circumspect in their pressing game early doors, leaving some juice in the tank for the back end of the game, where Sydney’s recent heavy schedule could start to tell?
The answer is probably a combination of both, but we will likely never really know for sure. What is indisputable though is that for all Sydney’s crisp passing through midfield, they very rarely got in behind Newcastle’s defence, and when I arrived home the stats confirmed this.
Stats can be misleading, as I’ve often noted in this column, and Newcastle’s 13 shots to Sydney’s five isn’t a fair reference to who had the best opportunities, either.
The stat that said the most about the Jets’ organisation and discipline was that despite seeming to be in command, FC’s very effective fullbacks delivered only four balls between them into the box (one for the goal) in the 90 minutes, which directly affected the potency of strikers Le Fondre and Brosque.
In short, Newcastle didn’t fall into the trap of chasing shadows in the midfield as Sydney’s talented and well-balanced engine room stroked one-touch passes in that area.
Instead they kept the play in front of them and adjusted accordingly defensively.
That said, Ernie Merrick had to change things, and take a risk to peg things back, and the Jets had the retained energy to press higher and disrupt when Merrick pressed the button.
Sydney’s golden chance and Glen Moss’s excellent redemptive save in injury time were a reminder of why teams don’t just “go for it” for 90 minutes, particularly against the most talented opponents.
It’s easy to forget that Sydney dissected Melbourne City 3-0 a week earlier, on their patch, three days after playing in the FFA Cup final. So it’s a result not to be sneezed at.
I was delighted for Nick Cowburn, who couldn’t have picked a better time to score his first A-league goal and earn his club a valuable point, and also the man he replaced Ben Kantarovski, who was very solid in his first start for the season, after niggling injuries hampered his preparation.
I was delighted for Nick Cowburn, who couldn’t have picked a better time to score his first A-league goal and earn his club a valuable point.
Unfortunately the international break this week means that any momentum garnered has to be put on hold for seven days until the Jets’ next fixture, away to the Wanderers on Friday, November 23. Still, that is the same for all teams, although some need it more than others.
With four rounds gone, I’m going to stick by my observation that this is the most even league for some seasons, but I do worry for Wellington and the Mariners, even at this early stage. Quality and depth will be sorely tested in coming months.
Perth, employing a 3–5–2 system, well recognisable to those of us familiar with the 1980s and ’90s, have started well, have the discipline and work ethic of Tony Popovic-coached sides, and look set to be the league’s most improved team.
Just where the new set-up leaves their best player of the past few years, Diego Castro, looms as a major question. The current system suits Franjic and Davidson as wing-backs and requires the pace and mobility of players like Keogh and Chianese up front.
Will Castro, one of the best players to grace the competition, be surplus to the system’s requirements? That would be a shame.
Right now I have Sydney, Perth, Melbourne Victory and Adelaide pencilled in for top-four finishes, with Melbourne City, the Jets and probably the Wanderers fighting for spots five and six. Brisbane appear in a transition phase but can be dangerous at home, particularly if Taggart stays fit.
Enjoy the week off, but also enjoy the Matildas tonight, the Socceroos on the weekend, and get ready to raise a glass to Tim Cahill next Tuesday evening.