Newcastle Jets have survived a late Brisbane Roar push, hanging onto a 1-0 win at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
The decisive moment came when Andrew Nabbout classily took down a long ball and placed it on a plate for the onrushing Jason Hoffman, whose first touch took him away from his Avraam Papadopoulos to convert in the 11th minute.
And the scoreline might have been far greater. At times the play was an attacking barrage by the Jets, and some outstanding work by Jamie Young produced a pair of stunning saves off the feet of Daniel Georgievski and Nabbout.
Brisbane struggled to threaten Glen Moss, but the gloveman was forced to get down low and make a brilliant save to deny Ivan Franjic with a header as the Queenslanders got themselves into the game in the second half.
The second-placed Jets have closed the gap between themselves and Sydney FC to five points, at least for the time being.
Newcastle are amazing to watch, and the locals know it
It’s Round 16 and by now, A-League fans far and wide know exactly what to expect from Ernie Merrick’s Newcastle side: crisp, attacking football with eyes constantly looking forward, eyeing off opportunity in the front third.
That style is seeing Nabbout and Dimi Petratos take their game to a new level week in, week out, and the makeshift No.9 spruiked his confidence in the form of a delightfully skilled knock-down for Hoffman.
Elsewhere, unsung heroes of the likes of Steven Ugarkovic are hard at work. The 23-year-old went about his stuff quietly again in midfield as he enjoys the best season of his career.
Add new signing Patricio Rodrguez to the mix and the Jets make for an even greater excitement machine. The Argentine wasted little time capturing the hearts and minds of Novocastria, netting on debut in the F3 Derby midweek. He earned a second half’s work against Brisbane as he rebuilds match fitness in the Australian sun.
And to think Ronald Vargas and Roy O’Donovan are some weeks away. This Jets team is playing beautiful football and, scarily, can still improve markedly. McDonald Jones Stadium is the No.1 ticket in the A-League right now and the Newcastle locals have begun responding with consecutive crowds of 13,127 and 12,137.
Roar can turn to youngsters for hope
To say the chips have been down in Brisbane is obvious, and fans will need little reminding of the club’s current plight. The Jets lengthened the Roar’s winless run to three, and no goals in those games.
John Aloisi’s men still lie in ninth spot and some way off finals, but the season is not exactly a write-off just yet, and as is common knowledge, just a few wins in the A-League can bring a team right back into finals calculations.
And the Roar were by no means disgraced. They enjoyed a positive spell in the second half and were arguably the better team in the final 45; it was a spirited effort.
The whole ‘kids are alright’ line seems shallow at this stage of the season. But at a time when Brisbane are so low on confidence, a shred of confidence can be taken from the club’s younger brigade.
Winger Daniel Leck earned his second start in a row and looks the part, playing with the freedom synonymous with young footballers before his 58th-minute withdrawal in favour of Franjic.
Meanwhile, left-back Connor O’Toole continuies to improve and, while he was culpable of squandering what was just about Brisbane’s best chance of the match, he is giving counterpart Corey Brown something to think about.
Nabbout edges towards his goal
At the tail end of 2017, the former Melbourne Victory man told 13 October’s Daily Football Show he had set a personal target of double figures in goals and assists.
“I set myself a target of double figures in goals and assists and he (Ernie Merrick) has said ‘to do that, you have to be in the box to score goals’,” Nabbout declared.
Four months later and Nabbout is well on target to achieve that marker, boasting seven goals and now six assists.
He is second in the league for assists and sixth for goals.