THE Newcastle Jets were left ruing a contentious last-minute refereeing call after a 2-1 loss to Macarthur Bulls at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday left them last on the A-League points table.
With the visitors clinging desperately to their lead, Bulls defender Aleksandar Susnjar touched the ball in the box, but the match officials chose not to award a penalty, ruling the contact had been accidental.
Instead of receiving a spot-kick that may have allowed them to salvage a draw, Newcastle were left frustrated after their third loss in as many starts this season, all by one-goal margins.
Jets coach Craig Deans said he was "so confused" by the hand-ball decision but admitted his team paid the price for another tardy start.
"I'm not sure what's a hand-ball, what's not a hand-ball," Deans said.
"If that happened in the middle of the park, it's a hand-ball ... I haven't talked to the referees, so I'm not sure of the reason why it's not a hand-ball.
"But that's the decision that was made, and we have to live with it. Whether I think it's right or wrong, unfortunately it's irrelevant."
For the third time this season, Deans declared the Jets "didn't deserve to lose", but he was also realistic about their plight.
"I think the last hour of the game, we were the better team," Deans said.
"But again we shot ourselves in the foot ... a slow start and we put ourselves under pressure, but obviously we recovered well and got back in the game by half-time.
"Second half, we just couldn't find a way through. Again, it's very disappointing."
There is no question about the effort Newcastle's players have been putting in, but the off-season departures of proven performers like Dimi Petratos, Matt Millar, Nick Fitzgerald, Abdiel Arroyo, Wes Hoolahan and Joe Ledley has left them with gaping holes to fill.
For the second consecutive game, the Jets found themselves 2-0 in arrears before mounting a comeback.
Macarthur opened the scoring in the eighth minute when French midfielder Luic Puyo produced a spectacular overhead kick to nail home a deflected cross.
Newcastle looked to have equalised eight minutes later when Jason Hoffman finished off an exchange of passes with an angled strike, only for the VAR to rule he was offside.
Puyo again showed his class in the 23rd minute with a swinging corner kick that English striker Matt Derbyshire headed in for his first A-League goal.
The home team reduced the deficit in the 42nd minute when the ball ricocheted around inside the box and deflected into the goal off striker Valentino Yuel's shin.
They then survived a nervous moment in the dying seconds of the first half when Derbyshire hit the crossbar, and the ball bounced favourably for Newcastle keeper Jack Duncan.
But gradually, aided by a stiff southerly, Newcastle started to dominate field position and created a host of promising chances. Repeatedly, Macarthur were able to get enough men back in defence to snuff out any danger.
The Jets will be joined at training this week by new signing Luka Prso, but he is unlikely to feature in Wednesday's home clash with Brisbane.