A 3-1 win over an impotent Melbourne Victory at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday has strengthened Newcastle Jets’ position at the front of the pack chasing Sydney FC.
Neither side found any flow in the opening half hour, and the match broken up by a string of fouls as Lachlan Jackson clamped down on the in-form Kosta Barbarouses while Leigh Broxham and James Donachie played on the edge amid a Victory defense cobbled together in the absence of full-backs Jason Geria and Stefan Nigro.
Victory had the greater of the early chances through Barbarouses and Rhys Williams, but it was the Jets that struck first after 30 minutes as Dimi Petratos weighted a ball perfectly from a set piece for a charging Nigel Boogaard to glance past Lawrence Thomas.
The visitors had a chance to level proceedings in stoppage time of the first half as James Troisi played in Besart Berisha, but a superb one-handed save from Jack Duncan denied the Victory marksman.
The second half began with controversy, with Thomas stretchered off following a collision with Andrew Nabbout and the latter shown a yellow card to a furious reception from home fans, as it appeared there was no intent or infringement in his clash with the Victory custodian.
For a brief window to follow it appeared Kevin Muscat’s side had the ascendancy, particularly with Leroy George taking the field after missing the last round with injury, but it was quickly snuffed out as substitute Riley McGree smashed the Jets’ second in at the near-post off an instinctive cross from Nabbout.
Did Nabbout deserve to be booked?
There was not any malice or recklessness evident in Nabbout’s collision with Thomas; the Jets forward was looking to capitalise on a scoring opportunity with the ball floating in the area.
The outcome perhaps contributed to referee Shaun Evans’ decision to produce a yellow card, with the Victory goalkeeper unconscious on the turf and ultimately unable to return to the game.
Additionally, Nabbout failed to make contact with the ball as genuine as his effort to contest appeared.
Theoharous not at his best on starting debut
News of Christian Theoharous’ first start was met with excitement from Victory fans, with the youth team product’s substitute appearances having generated a buzz on the terraces throughout the season.
Grappling with the experienced Jason Hoffman, Theoharous managed just nine involvements across more than an hour of play, the highlight a diagonal ball in congestion to release Barbarouses in a play that perhaps should have amounted to more.
Given the spark he provided off the bench, fans could be forgiven for being a touch disappointed with Theoharous’ starting debut, but against an experienced campaigner, ahead of a static midfield and with no legitimate full-back to overlap with, the odds were stacked against him and it may be best to reserve judgement.
Lack of depth hurts Victory again
While the acquisition of Terry Antonis looks an astute move after the departure of Mark Milligan for Al-Ahli, Muscat did not move to cover gaps in his defense and with Thomas Deng, Geria and Nigro all missing, he was forced to shuffle players into unfamiliar areas.
So far the team’s relative depth in central defense and the emergence of Nigro as a strong defensive option at left-back has covered for him, but Muscat’s inaction last month was exposed as Matias Sanchez and Broxham flanked the central defenders.
Victory’s loss to Sydney FC last round provided a glimpse of the damage that can be done without a dedicated left-back as Adrian Mierzejewski ran riot, but the effects were felt throughout the team this time around, with the wingers more isolated and play funnelled through a Newcastle midfield more than happy to chop up play.