Mark Birighitti turned in a career best performance in the Newcastle goal to deny the Wanderers even a solitary point in their round 6 clash this evening.
An early goal to Wanderers forward Joey Gibbs was cancelled out by a glancing header to Ryan Griffiths, followed by a goal that could be awarded as either an Emile Heskey goal or an Ante Covic own goal to give the Jets all three points.
The only goal of the game for Western Sydney came on 15 minutes. Mooy in a deep midfield position was able to thread a pass into the path of Shinji Ono just outside the penalty box. The Japanese superstar tapped the ball onto Hersi. He flicked the b all over and through the Jets defence, setting Ono free in the box. Despite a call for offside it was clear that Ono was being played onside by the Newcastle Jets right back and play continued. Ono had the easiest of inside passes as no-one had tracked either his run or the run into the box of Joey Gibbs. With the ball served on a silver platter on the edge of the 6 yard and the young striker could not miss and he buried the chance to open the scoring.
After the goal was scored another period of loose play ensued. More fouls from both teams, Heskey, Hersi, Topor-Stanley, Scott Neville and finally Mateo Poljak who received the first yellow card of the night for a trip on James Brown. From that free kick the Jets took control of possession and crafted an attack that produced the 28th minute equaliser. Heskey knocked on a ball to James Brown who worked a one-two pass with Ryan Griffiths, Brown then found Scott Neville who lofted a cross toward the near post and a scrum of players. Heskey, Topor-Stanley, La Rocca and Griffiths all rose to meet the cross but it fell between two Wanderers defenders and the glancing header hit the base of the far post and rebounded in for a goal.
With 10 minutes left to play in the half the Jets took the lead. An aimless chip into the 6 yard box evaded all the Wanderers defenders as Heskey knocked La Rocca out of the play. Heskey got a toe to the ball and directed it toward goal. The ball rebounded off the same post that the first goal did, bounced back into Ante Covic's hand and unluckily went backward for the goal to leave the Wanderers down 2-1 at the break.
The second half started with an ambitious effort from D'Apuzzo when the ball came to him from a corner but it was wildly off target and lacked power. The Wanderers best two chances fell to Joey Gibbs. On 57 minutes Ante Covic launched a goal-kick that Mark Bridge was able to flick on to Gibbs. The young striker took on Tiago Calvano and opened himself up to shoot. The shot was centimeters wide, curling away from goal rather than toward. 3 minutes later he got his second chance. After building from the back the Wanderers won a throw-in that Mooy received before hitting a pin-point cross onto the chest of Gibbs. Birighitti stood tall once again to deny the Wanderers.
Dino Kresinger was thrown on for Gibbs moments after that second miss and he created an immediate impact. Hersi chipped the ball to the big target man, Ono ran in behind the Jets defence and Dino dutifully flicked the ball on to meet the run. With a clear sight of goal Ono chose to use his right foot in an attempt to lob the ball over the keeper. Birighitti once again stood tall by swatting the ball away. Aaron Mooy took a long-range free kick and aimed it straight at goal, his forceful shot dipping but not far enough to challenge Birighitti.
With time running down Western Sydney laid siege to the Newcastle goal. Shannon Cole broke down the left hand side, brilliantly outplaying four Jets defenders. From the byline Cole delivered a cross into the middle. With Dino lurking in the centre it needed the slightest of touches from Josh Mitchell to take it off the head of the striker. In the 88th minute the game turned even more in favour of the Wanderers as Jacob Pepper received a second yellow card despite coming on as a substitute in the 83rd minute.
The story of this game was deep crosses and ambitious long shots. The Wanderers have one of the highest ratings in the league for shots taken but many of them are from ranges upward of 25 or even 30 yards. Popovic has assembled a squad that is fully capable of playing the ball on the ground all the way from Ante Covic up to the front men like Hersi and Bridge. It is possible that the defensive mindset of the Wanderers leads their defenders to playing long balls first to get the ball clear but I think they could do better keeping it on the ground if the options are available.
The last hectic minutes of the game saw probably a dozen crosses that came in from deep areas. These crosses are often aimless, simply getting it 'into the mixer' and hoping that a second ball will fall or that a flick-on might open up a path to goal. If there is no obvious target for these crosses they should not be made. Having the aim of just dinking it to the big man up front isn't an effective strategy. The best two moments of the second half for the Wanderers came from a byline cross by Shannon Cole that if not for the slightest of defensive touches would have had Dino unmarked 5 yards out, and the second came from Mooy aiming the ball over the heads of the Jets defenders for the Gibbs chest down.
Popovic should be happy with the performance but not the end product. Everyone will know they can still improve and get those results and the players have the quality to get the job done. They just need to ditch the aimless long balls and deep crosses. I don't think we can ask for Barcelona triangles and short passing, but when our tactics are often about hitting crosses to a target man, then we should be creating opportunities for effective crosses which in the modern game are those that come in hard and fast from the byline either by the wingers or by the fullbacks.
Defensively the team was sound but not overly convincing, neither goal was a result of a major defensive error and the defense worked well even with La Rocca standing in for Beauchamp. We have heard some news that Mateo Poljak has suffered a major injury that may keep him out for a long time, this will force a reshuffle in defence to cover the more defensively minded role that he played in central midfield. La Rocca could be stepping up from central defence to that midfield position or Popovic might opt for Caira or Trifiro to join Mooy.
The Wanderers next match is against Perth Glory in Perth on the 18th of November at 5:pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time.