Drama, brilliance, and calamity as Prijović helps Western United down Newcastle in FFA Cup

It wouldn’t be Australian football if it marked a historic occasion without adding in equal amounts controversy, brilliance, and downright insanity. 

After Lachlan Wales opener had been cancelled out by Daniel dos Santos Penha’s sumptuous second-half free-kick, Aleksandar Prijović’s 79th-minute goal consigned Newcastle Jets to the unwanted title of the first A-League Men’s side in FFA Cup history to miss out on a place in the Round of 32 on Saturday evening; the visitors downed 2-1 in front of the few brave souls that braved the cold to venture down to Kardinia Park. 

Meeting just a week before the start of the A-League Men season, providing an important tune-up for both clubs after a COVID-disrupted pre-season, both sides produced hints as to what fans can expect from their respective units in the weeks and months ahead in what was an entertaining and competitive contest; striker Beka Mikeltadze performing well for the Jets and newly minted vice-captain Josh Risdon solid for the hosts. 

Now, a win in their pocket, United will turn their attention to hosting Melbourne Victory in Geelong next Saturday, as well facing Wellington Phoenix in the Cup’s Round of 32 on December 7, and the Jets will attempt to pick themselves off the turf and prepare to welcome Central Coast Mariners to the Hunter on Sunday. 

“There was a lot of positives,” United coach John Aloisi, securing a victory in his first game at the club said. “I thought in the first half we got into really good positions but probably lacked that final delivery at times. Sometimes you’re rushing it a little bit. But then there were moments that they got on top and we had to defend desperately at times. 

“So, it was a free-flowing game. Both teams had a lot of opportunities, even if they weren’t clear cut they were in good areas. I thought it was a really entertaining game. So I’m happy to get the first win because these boys have gone a long time without winning so it’s important to get that taste of winning. 

“You could see that in the first game sometimes they were a bit anxious when we won the ball in good areas, the first pass didn’t stick when we had good opportunities. But all in all, really happy with the boys. Sometimes you need to grind it out and they did at the end.”

The Jets, however, will undoubtedly head back to New South Wales wondering what might have been and, more specifically, just how Angus Thurgate’s 31st-minute effort didn’t give them a one-goal lead. 

Meeting a cutback from Mikeltadze atop the United penalty area, Thurgate opened up his body to meet the pass from his new Georgian teammate and bend a shot to the left hand of goalkeeper Jamie Young, with the 36-year-old custodian only able to parry the effort onto his near post. 

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The resulting bounce back inside seemingly took the ball over the goal line but, in a minor miracle for Young, the intense spin that he had left on the ball saw it take a wicked bounce off the surface and careen back into play — fooling both the referee and linesman into believing that it had remained in play. 

“There’s not really much to say about it,” Jets coach Arhur Papas said. “It’s gone over the line. We can sit about it and talk about it all day but at the end of the day we didn’t get our goal. 

“There’s some disapointed players in that room right now but I was really proud of our performance. 

“Both teams are new teams, still trying to find their feet and you saw that, because both teams had some good passages and at times it was a bit clunky. But i was proud, because when yuo go 1-0 down as well, at that stage just before halftime I thought the response was excellent. 

“We created some good chances, I just had a look at some of the stats: we had a majority of the ball and created some good quality chances. They were always a threat on set pieces and on the counter as the game progressed but that’s because of the contest of the game as well. 

“So overall there was a lot to be pleased about, in the end, we don’t get our deserved.”

Aloisi, for his part, mused that perhaps after three years out of management, the footballing gods had been on his side.

Adding salt to Novocastrian wounds — this not the first time they’ve had to suffer from the absenceof VAR — they were down just moments out from halftime of a game they felt they should have been leading when Wales took advantage of a calamitous breakdown in communication between Jet defender Jason Hoffman and goalkeeper Jack Duncan to nip in give his side a 1-0 lead.

Absorbing a strong start to the second-half by their foes, first-year coach Papas’ side then restored parity in the 63rd minute when on-loan Brazilian Penha let fly with a thunderous free-kick that blasted through the hands of Young and nestled in the back of the net. 

But the sense of equilibrium would soon be wiped out by newly signed striker Prijović: the Swiss-born Serbian international collecting an Alessandro Diamanti through ball that Duncan, inexplicably making his second howler of the game, fluffed his attempted clearance of and firing into an empty net. 

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
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