Sydney’s dominant eight-point lead at the summit of the A-League remains intact but the air of invincibility surrounding the Sky Blues in their own backyard disappeared quickly in surviving an onslaught from the Newcastle Jets on Wednesday night.
Sydney FC’s undefeated run at Allianz Stadium extended to 24 games, setting an A-League record, after Brazilian striker Bobo scored a late equaliser to clinch a 2-2 draw. However, it masked an otherwise underwhelming performance from the Sky Blues who were largely outclassed by an impressive Newcastle side who were unlucky not to breathe much-needed life into the race for the Premiers’ Plate.
The second-half of Sydney’s 6-0 win over Perth four days earlier was meant to be a benchmark for 2018, but replicating that performance never looked likely. Instead, Newcastle may have shown the rest of the league a way to beat the Sky Blues, being harder in the tackle, compact in defence and quick on the break.
“Their midfielders and wide players, their fullbacks get forward, their midfielders come inside and we had planned to negate that. It was very important because they take risks going forward with both fullbacks we planned to counter attack on both flanks,” Jets coach Ernie Merrick said.
It took just 10 minutes for Newcastle’s plan to pay dividends. On his return from injury, Jets’ fullback Daniel Georgievski delivered a superbly weighted cross for his forward, Andrew Nabbout, finding the run of the striker who emphatically slammed a header past Andrew Redmayne to stun the 18,055 mostly Sydney fans.
Their shock lead lasted just five minutes. In a breathtaking response, the reigning Johnny Warren medallist Milos Ninkovic embarked on a solo mission – beating four challenges inside the box before chipping the ball past Newcastle goalkeeper Glen Moss to make it 1-1 in sensational fashion.
It sparked Sydney into life when in possession but frailties showed defensively. Chances to Jason Hoffman and Nabbout should have restored the Jets’ lead before the break.
Sydney’s indecision was eventually punished after the hour-mark. Their failure to clear a corner was instinctively punished by rising star, Joseph Champness, who reacted the quickest to the loose ball and calmly side-footed into the roof of the net.
The Jets didn’t look like surrendering, and when the league’s top scorer, Bobo, rounded Moss to seemingly score a certain late equaliser, Jets’ defender Lachlan Jackson thwarted it with a desperate lunge to keep the score at 2-1. However Sydney’s class again salvaged a result late in the game.
With three minutes to play, Bobo headed in Adrian Mierzejewski’s cross to draw level, shattering the hearts of the travelling supporters who came so close to toppling Sydney at a venue they label a “fortress”.
“You’ve got to give credit to Newcastle, they came with a game plan to defend and hit us on the break and they’ve got pace up front and our rest defence behind the ball wasn’t what it usually is in the first half,” Sydney coach Graham Arnold said. “By the time I could get the boys in at half time and fix that, then I thought in the second half there was only one team that looked like winning.”