Newcastle 1 - Central Coast 0
Newcastle returned to their sand pit just 4 days after the shambles against Sydney. This time water was liberally sprayed onto the pitch before the game and at half time. It did the trick. A great attacking game of football was produced and enjoyed by the crowd of nearly 15,000 Jet-sters and Marinaters.
On display were two of the three top coaches in the A-League. Gary Van Egmond and Lawrie McKinna were able to turn on a high quality fast moving match on a suspect pitch - without resort to a long ball game. This was a foil to Terry Butcher's winning performance there just days earlier.
Also on display were the A-League's two top goal keepers, Ante Covic (Jets) and Danny Vukovic (Mariners). In contrast to earlier games, Vukovic had little to do. This was particularly the case in the second half. Meanwhile, Covic demonstrated why he is in the Socceroos squad. Covic saved Newcastle. The first half was fast and close and highlighted by Milton Rodriguez's winning goal for Newcastle. The second half was dominated by Central Coast attacking runs - and unfortunately for them - Covic's acrobatics.
And after the turmoil of Newcastle's early season, opening the squad with only one goal keeper, 19 year old Ben Kennedy, and then Kennedy's season ending injury, Covic's return from Europe makes Newcastle a title contender.
While Newcastle made the finals last season, by year they looked spent. This year they started poorly but have built both squad and confidence. And while the dismissal of Nic Theodorakopoulos was the results turning point, a winning attacking team that could challenge Melbourne and Sydney's dominance was in place. Perhaps Nic represented too many issues in the club, who would really know that detail. Perhaps the real credit should go to chair Con Constantine - for holding face when crowds dipped under 5,000 and for stumping up for Milton and Ante Covic.
Last night both teams played attacking football. More the remarkable was that this was quite a different Central Coast team. Injury has hit them hard. And the coaching team of former National Soccer League stars, Lawrie McKinna, Ian Ferguson and Alex Tobin, have proved their worth in developing young local talent - able to step up and be competitive in one of the toughest games of the season.
However, Central Coast miss Damian Mori. His 6 goals in 8 games put Central Coast in contention. He wanted to stay and they wanted to keep him. Alias, under the 4 week striker for striker (defender for defender) injury rule he could not. And unfortunately Nik Mrdja only lasted 256 minutes before succumbing to injury again (if Roar hadn't pounced Mori could have been back). And despite Frank Farina's implications, it has nothing to do with long balls. Central Coast created up to 15 real chances last night, crosses, heads into space into space in the 6 yard box... What was missing was a player locked into the 6th sense of the team to be in the right place at the right time to bang it in. Only Mori has shown this for Central Coast. And as much as he looked like that person, bolted on at the front for Central Coast, he has not looked like it for the Roar. It is little wonder that he is now talking about retirement - perhaps central Coast will pick him up next year?