15/04/2024

Newcastle forward Beka Mikeltadze celebrates a goal with teammate Jaushua Sotirio (Image: Newcastle Jets)

After the their first clash of the season was washed out in Round One, the Jets finally visited Gosford to face the Mariners as the league resumed from the World Cup break.

The commencement of hostilities on the F3 began days before the Jets visited the Mariners in a humourous manner, with parts of the highway that connects Newcastle and Gosford extracted to create one of the quirkiest trophies in world football.

This encounter was anything but light-hearted for Newcastle coach Arthur Papas whose side was in the midst of a three-game losing slump when the league paused for the World Cup break.

To make matters worse for Papas, despite winning the admiration of many neutral in the league, his side failed to gain a point against its local rivals in his first campaign in charge with Nick Montgomery’s Mariners being victorious on all three occasions and scoring eight goals in the process. It would again not be easy for the Jets, as the Mariners started Socceroos Danny Vukovic and Jason Cummings and reserved Garang Kuol on the bench for what has become his trademark second-half impact.

It looked like it was going to be a long day for the Jets early in the encounter, with Marco TΓΊlio’s shot leaving Newcastle goalkeeper Jack Duncan helpless 25 seconds into the encounter but with the ball fortuitously colliding with the post instead of the back of the net.

Despite starting with a heat that reflected the conditions in Gosford, the Mariners suddenly began finding it hard to break down the Jets’ resistance, with Angus Thurgate and Brandon O’Neill handily breaking down the home side’s attacks before they could trouble their backline.

Just after the 10th minute, the two Jets holding midfielders extended their defensive connection into the attacking side of the game, combining rapidly through the middle of the pitch with Thurgate then releasing Daniel Stynes on the wing who, on starting debut, picked out Trent Buhagiar, the forward making no mistake to open the scoring.

Despite statistically being one of the better creative sides in the lead, the Mariners could not create many high-quality opportunities in the first half. With both sides known for their defensive deficiencies and their strong attacking play, opening the scoring was crucial for the Jets, but the game was far from over despite the visitors taking a lead to the break.

As they’ve already done multiple times in Season 2022/23, the Mariners showed up with a renewed attitude after the halftime break and lost no time taking the game to their rivals. After being pinned in their box for the opening minutes of the second half, the Jets were unable to clear the ball and Jason Cummings showed his quality by getting his side level to the delight of the home fans.

The Scotland-born Socceroo was subbed off minutes later in what can only be assumed as a premeditated management tactic with the forward having returned from Qatar earlier that week. Montgomery was in the fortunate position to sub on fellow Socceroo Garang Kuol in his final month in the A Leagues before moving to Premier League side Newcastle United.

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The attention coming into the game may have been on the Mariners and their returning Socceroos, but the Jets were keen to prove that they had plenty of quality within their ranks. After a relatively quiet first hour of football, Georgian duo Beka Dartsmelia and Beka Mikeltadze combined to win their side a corner.

The latter’s well-placed deep deliver found Mikeltadze who managed to head the ball past Socceroo Danny Vukovic at close range. The Georgian combination restored Newcastle’s lead and the Mikeltadze, a deadly striker already adored by Novocastrians, did his reputation with his fans no harm, scoring his first goal against the Jets’ local rivals.

The goal triggered changes on both benches, with the Jets soon transitioning to a defensive formation. highlighted by five defenders and their willingness to surrender the ball to the Mariners while exploiting their desperate rivals on the counter. Meanwhile, the Mariners transitioned to a more direct formation in hopes they could cause chaos in the box of their notoriously easy-to-breach opposition.

A low Josh Nisbet cross ended up finding the back of the net for the Mariners but a handball in the lead-up by Michael Ruhs saw referee Ben Abraham consult VAR and cancel out the equaliser. The Mariners kept pushing but a surprisingly stubborn Newcastle defense remained solid to eventually claim a well-deserved three points.

The Mariners will be bitterly disappointed, not just with the result but with their performance, knowing that their best is more than good enough to cause the Jets a lot more problems than they had to face. Nick Montgomery’s side will have to recover quickly, with Sydney FC making the journey up to Gosford after finally claiming an impressive win at home against pace-setters Melbourne City.

Meanwhile, the Jets open up Round 8 when they host Brisbane in Newcastle. Despite the Roar being a stubborn side defensively, Arthur Papas’ side will be confident in its ability to get the job done in the pursuit of back-to-back wins as they seek to continue climbing the ladder.

The two sides recommence hostilities in Gosford in just over a week, with a catchup game scheduled to make up for the postponed Round One clash.

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