David Lowe: The Lowedown

NEWCASTLE’S unbeaten start to the season came to an end, perhaps unsurprisingly at the hands of Sydney FC, on a wild Saturday night down the M1, but it was still a week to leave a smile on the faces of football fans.

The Socceroos got the job done, at the business end of the longest qualifying road in World Cup history, on a nervy, patience-required, but ultimately joyous night at Homebush, and we all went home both totally relieved yet delighted to belong once again at football’s premier showpiece and biggest celebration.

BOOTS AND ALL: Newcastle's Jack Duncan and Alex Brosque collide at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night. Picture: AAP

BOOTS AND ALL: Newcastle's Jack Duncan and Alex Brosque collide at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night. Picture: AAP

There was sweet vindication for Ange Postecoglou, reward for the hard work of the national squad and staff, a financial boon for the FFA , and a reason for diehard fans to start saving extra hard, and study the exchange rate for Russian rubles.

It was a Boy’s Own sort of evening for skipper Mile Jedinak, back just in time from a lengthy injury break to lead his nation to the promised land with a massive personal contribution.

A hat-trick, on top of two commanding performances in central midfield, was surely beyond the realms of his wildest dreams leading into the two-legged tie with Honduras, but cometh the hour ... 

His was a triumph for mental strength as much as any other factor. Certainly his first goal contained an element of good fortune, a free kick deflected past a wrong-footed keeper, but the conversion of two crucial penalties in clutch moments takes a lot of  ... nerve!

The stellar night of Jedinak aside, the Socceroos were never seriously threatened, by opponents who lacked a little belief and were clearly second-best in every department over the two legs.

Aaron Mooy was as industrious as ever, always available, always probing, but the moments of inspiration and technical quality came from Tommy Rogic, who looked a class above everyone else in tight areas.

It wasn't quite a breakout game for the Celtic man, but his confidence and composure shone through, and he more than anyone may benefit from the giant shop window that a World Cup provides in eight month’s time.

His former coach at the Mariners, Graham Arnold, oversaw Sydney FC’s ninth consecutive win over the Newcastle Jets on Saturday, to reclaim top spot in the A-League, in at-times cyclonic conditions at Allianz Stadium.

A ninth loss in a row to the same opponents implies a strong case of deja vu , but it wasn't quite like that, although to be honest the first half-hour or so suggested it might be.

It was a night that posed a lot more questions than it provided answers.

Would the Jets have pinched a point if Roy O'Donovan had played? Surely they would have been more threatening, and more effective with Andrew Nabbout  in wide areas.

Would the Jets have pinched a point if Roy O'Donovan had played?

Having said that we should remember that Sydney rested Luke Wilkshire, and took off key players Milos Ninkovic and Alex Brosque after an hour or so, with a view to Tuesday’s FFA Cup.

Certainly Jack Duncan, otherwise in superb touch, gifted Sydney their second goal, but Andrew Redmayne in Sydney 's goal returned the favour, less obviously, by not even getting a touch on Dimi Petratos's skimming shot from long range, and a difficult angle.

That gave the Jets a lifeline they may not have carved out for themselves, and changed the dynamic a little. To be fair, the pace of the Jets’ attack posed problems for Sydney that haven't been apparent in clashes over recent seasons.

Did the rain help the Jets loosen Sydney’s grip on the game? Certainly it was more run and gun after the heavens opened, Sydney’s controlled possession hindered by the greasy pitch, and  the resultant helter-skelter. 

The answers to those questions are open to debate, and far less important than how the Jets bounce back on Thursday night, against Melbourne Victory. 

Hands up if you thought the Jets would you go through the season unbeaten? Didn't think so.

Are you shocked that a team that is unbeaten in 20 games at home, who had won the previous eight encounters comfortably, would conjure a win against a Jets team missing their main striker? Didn't think so.

The response is all important. The Jets have a very good record against Melbourne Victory, particularly at home.

I think it's fair to say that Kevin Muscat’s team is at a crossroads right now. A slow start, disruptions through international duty, injuries, suspensions, poor form, but a last-start win in Perth on Sunday.

Confidence slightly restored, Victory still face the challenge of history, and an improved Jets team, so this clash is perhaps even more vital to them than their hosts.

You don't have to be Einstein to appreciate that a run of games comprising  Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory , and Melbourne City, over the space of a fortnight, will be testing and informative.

Good results in the next two fixtures can set up Newcastle’s season. A couple of defeats could erode, depending on other results, the benefits of a flying start.

It is a scribe’s privilege to gaze ahead, speculate and surmise. The coaching staff of football clubs generally concentrate game by game, and I'm sure both Merrick and Muscat will be firmly focused on Thursday night.

A win for the Jets would move them 10 points clear of Victory, last season’s beaten grand-finalists, and surely one of the dangers for a top four, if not top two spot.

Messrs Milligan, Troisi, Berisha and Barbarouses might have something to say about that. Hopefully O'Donovan will be back on deck, to add to the argument.

This story David Lowe: The Lowedown first appeared on Newcastle Herald.


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