Newcastle Jets ended the regular season in style, sending eight past Central Coast in a scintillating 8-2 victory in Gosford on Saturday night.
Joey Champness opened the scoring excellently inside the first 10 minutes, linking up with Riley McGree to cut through the Mariners defence and slot the ball into the net.
Roy O’Donovan punished his former employers once again, latching onto a perfect through ball from Steven Ugarkovic before releasing a composed finish past Ben Kennedy.
Champness then turned provider for the third, setting up McGree to strike from outside the box and compounding Central Coast’s early misery.
Connor Pain was able to reduce the deficit before half-time, with some lovely buildup play down the right-wing culminating in a cross that was diverted into his path by goalkeeper Jack Duncan. The former Victory man had the simple task of passing the ball into an empty net.
A surging run from midfield by McGree saw his second and Newcastle’s fourth goal of the match come to fruition, as his shot squirmed underneath Kennedy and into the net.
The fifth was added by Lachlan Jackson, ghosting in unmarked at the back post from a corner to thump a header into a vacant net. O’Donovan was soon at it again, this time converting from the penalty spot after Jake McGing had bundled Champness over in the box.
McGree completed a hat-trick with under 20 minutes to play, unleashing an unstoppable strike from a tight angle on the left side of the box – shooting across goal and into the opposite side of the net.
The Mariners found some more consolation in the 80th minute, with a tidy control and finish from Trent Buhagiar seeing the ball go in off the crossbar.
Just a minute later, Dimitri Petratos slammed in an eighth for the visitors with a neat side-footed finish into the bottom corner from a cut-back.
Back in form at just the right time
Having lost three games on the trot including two without scoring, Ernie Merrick’s Jets were in desperate need of a lift in form before the finals.
Newcastle were ruthless from start to finish. Champness was electric through the final third, with his constant movement down the channels leaving the Mariners defence perplexed as to how to stop him.
Linking up with him were O’Donovan and Petratos, while McGree’s supporting runs from deep added another element to the attack. Ugarkovic pulled the strings from midfield and set the tone for the tempo of the match, breaking up the play and getting the team on the front foot.
Perhaps the one concern, if there was to be any, was the fact that they still allowed Central Coast to score two goals past them – which could have been more had the woodwork not come to Duncan’s rescue on more than one occasion.
A first finals appearance in a decade and a record points tally in the club’s history give fans plenty of reason for optimism in their quest for another A-League crown come the end of the season.
Onwards and upwards for the Mariners
With next season’s manager Mike Mulvey watching on, the heads now well and truly turn to future endeavours for the Mariners, who have endured yet another tumultuous A-League campaign.
A win for Wellington over Melbourne City in the earlier game on Saturday and this result consigned the Gosford outfit to a second wooden spoon in three seasons, and four consecutive seasons in the bottom three of the competition.
Once again it is back to the drawing board for the management of the club, who will look to rebuild for the fourth offseason running, in an attempt to make the finals for the first time in five years.
The side showed that they are capable of playing some attractive football in this match, as they had a patch of brilliance in the closing stages of the first half where they looked as though they could find a way back into the contest.
Big things must happen to pull the Mariners out of the darkness of the abyss that they are currently stuck in if they are to continue to be involved in the competition in years to come.
Let the finals begin
This game was somewhat of a dead rubber in the context of the league table, with Newcastle having been unable to move up or down from second spot for some weeks, and the Mariners well out of the race for the top six.
The focus of the nation will now be on the finals series, a showcase of the best football teams in the land, with the drama of elimination and silverware at stake.
Newcastle have once again proven that there will be plenty of competition to fight Sydney for the title with a vintage display in this fixture.
With a week off to come, the Jets will be primed and ready for their first final, and have every possibility of making it to the big stage and taking it to Graham Arnold’s Sky Blues outfit.