IT wasn’t pretty, but the Newcastle Jets have notched their first win of the A-League season, overcoming Western Sydney Wanderers 2-0 in a scrappy contest at Spotless Stadium on Friday night.
Makeshift striker Jason Hoffman put the visitors ahead in the 25th minute.
Ronny Vargas then ensured the three points would be headed back up the freeway with an emphatic finish in injury time.
The Jets had absorbed enormous pressure in the second half but stood strong to keep their first clean sheet of the campaign.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Nigel Boogaard were towers of strength at the back and the midfield duo of Ben Kantarovski and Steve Ugarkovic got through a power of work.
The win moved the Jets to five points and alongside Adelaide in sixth place.
Hoffman admitted the Jets had played better but was simply relieved to get the first win.
“The first few rounds we played some good football but weren’t tough enough to grind out a result after taking the lead in a couple of matches,” he said. “Tonight we weren’t that happy with how we played to be honest. It was pretty scrappy, but sometimes it doesn’t matter, you need to get the ball rolling in the season and three points is three points.”
The win came at a cost with Daniel Georgievski forced off with a groin injury.
It was not a fluent performance by Newcastle but that was largely to do with a playing surface Jets coach Ernie Merrick labelled a “disgrace”.
The pitch, which was sandy and patchy, was littered with plastic shards from cups after a concert held at the venue last week. Merrick also found a metal screw on the playing area. Security staff and volunteers scoured the ground picking up the debris before the teams warmed up.
FFA said there had been inspections on Tuesday and Thursday involving groundsmen, stadium staff, A-League officials and Wanderers. The suggestion was that the huge winds on Friday blew the plastic onto the pitch.
The Jets led 1-0 after a dour first half in which both teams struggled to move the ball on the bumpy surface.
The visitors needed a brilliant reflex save from Glen Moss in the 11th minute to stay on level terms.
Josh Risdon burst into the box and floated a cross to debutant Abraham Majok at the back post but the tall striker couldn’t beat Moss with a header from point-blank range.
The Jets worked their way into the game and went ahead in the 25th minute.
Topor-Stanley collected a piercing ball from Dimi Petratos on the edge of the area and angled a pass to Hoffman. The striker stuck his left foot out and steered a shot towards goal. Vedran Janjetovic got a finger to the ball but it had enough pace to bounce into the corner.
It was only the second game this season that the Jets have struck first.
Striker Oriol Riera should have equalised in the 40th minute for Wanderers, but with Moss beaten, he crashed a header into the post from two metres.
Hoffman nearly had a double two minutes into second half when released into the box by Vargas. He made good contact with his first-time left-foot effort but Janjetovic got a strong hand down just in time.
Vargas had two good chances to double the advantage but couldn’t beat the keeper.
However, it was anything but one-way traffic.
Bruce Kamau went close with a header and Majok forced a diving save from Moss and had a shot from an acute angle whiz past the right post.
The further the half went, the more the home side pushed on.
** The Newcastle Jets will have a strong chance of progressing through the group stage of the Asian Champions League if they qualify.
The draw for the 32-team 2019 tournament was held in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday night.
If successful, the Jets will be in Group E along with the third club from Korea Republic, Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and another play-off winner from either China, Thailand or Vietnam.
To book a place in the final 32, the Jets must get through a two-stage qualification process. They play a team from either Singapore or Indonesia at McDonald Jones Stadium in February.
Should Ernie Merrick’s side successfully navigate that fixture, they’ll travel to Japan for a final sudden death game.
“Obviously we need to get through the qualification stage, but Group E is a great draw for us – just to be involved in the Champions League again is fantastic for the Club,” said Jets operation manager Joel Griffiths.
The Jets last featured in the AFC Champions League in 2009, where they progressed to the round of 16.
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