A last-gasp header from Nick Cowburn has salvaged the Newcastle Jets a 1-1 draw with Sydney FC, but the search for their first A-League victory of the new season continues.
The Jets were staring down the barrel of a third defeat in just four rounds but snatched a point on Saturday night courtesy of Cowburn's 87th-minute goal from a free kick.
Sydney FC defender Jop van der Linden had given away a foul for handball close to the right corner post. Dimitri Petratos delivered a great ball in and Cowburn peeled off his marker Adam Le Fondre to nod it home, much to the delight of the 11,415 in attendance at McDonald Jones Stadium.
It was in almost precisely the same spot, and in the same manner, as Alex Brosque's first-half goal that for so long looked like it was going to be the decisive moment of the match.
The Jets are still winless after four rounds and it was only after Cowburn's goal that they started to look dangerous. Before that, they were far too ponderous in attack and easy kill for the Sky Blues' defence. The result might actually mask the team's deficiencies in that respect, although coach Ernie Merrick wasn't too concerned afterwards.
"The stats show we entered the front third more than they did… we had 13 shots to their five. Having said that, stats lie often," Merrick said. "There was some great play from both teams. I think a draw was a fair result [although] I was convinced we were going to get another goal out of it and steal the game at the end."
The draw will probably feel like a loss for Sydney, who were by far the better team. Charles Lokolingoy had the chance to win it late for the visitors but couldn't get his shot past goalkeeper Glen Moss to score what would have been his maiden A-League goal.
"To concede a goal late in the game, which we dominated… it's a frustrating finish," Sydney coach Steve Corica said. "Most parts of the game we were very good. It's two points definitely lost. It would have been great to pick up three points because this is a very difficult place to come to… we were almost there, but not quite."
Both teams had good early sights at goal on a cool Saturday night in the Hunter. Ronald Vargas had a great chance for the Jets in just the fifth minute when a loose ball fell his way but the Venezuelan's attempt went straight at Andrew Redmayne.
Moments later, a misjudged header from Nikolai Topor-Stanley opened the door for the in-form Le Fondre to surge forward, but he pushed his shot past the right post. Perhaps he's human after all – this was the first game the Englishman has played for Sydney FC without scoring.
Sydney took the lead in the 20th minute courtesy of another blunder at the back. Brandon O'Neill dished out wide to an unmarked Rhyan Grant, who had all the time in the world to measure up his cross from the right flank.
The recalled Socceroo picked out Brosque, who managed to divert the ball towards the target with a glancing header. It should have been easy work for Moss, but Brosque's effort somehow squeezed under his hands and into the back of the net.
It continued the Brosque's career goal-scoring spree against Newcastle. No player in the history of the competition has scored more often against Newcastle than the veteran Sky Blues skipper, whose personal record now stands at 14 from 29 matches.
Moss's blunder was a deflating moment for the Jets but they largely dominated the remainder of the first half. But for all their possession they created very little, with Sydney easily soaking up their pressure.
It was more of the same in the second stanza. Supporters started groaning with frustration every time Newcastle worked themselves into a good position without taking a pop at goal.
Ninkovic showed them how it was done in the 65th minute with a terrific curling effort from outside the box. Moss partially redeemed himself with a fine save to keep it out, before Cowburn's late strike got the rest of the team out of jail.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.