Sky Blues left clinging on to beat Jets and go 12 points clear
Sydney FC opened up a 12-point lead at the top of the Hyundai A-League after labouring to a hard-fought 2-1 win against the rock bottom Newcastle Jets.
Adam Le Fondre and Kosta Barbarouses took advantage of gaping holes in the Newcastle defence, either side of an outstanding Steven Ugarkovic strike, as the Champions edged away from the managerless cellar dwellers in the Jets' first match after sacking Ernie Merrick last week.
Steve Corica’s men showed their clinical side when spaces opened up at McDonald Jones Stadium, but the visitors could only record one second-half attempt on a Newcastle goal that saw back-up keeper Lewis Italiano play the final 25 minutes after Glen Moss was carried off with a calf injury.
Le Fondre was on target after 14 minutes with a trademark close-range finish to take an outright lead in the Golden Boot standings with his 13th of the campaign, after Barbarouses had surged behind the static Jets backline to set up Sydney’s first attempt on goal of the evening.
Returning to the line-up after being handed a well-earned rest last week, Milos Ninkovic drifted into acres of space to create the second for Kiwi marksman Barbarouses on 36 minutes as the Sky Blues punished their hapless opponents to establish a 2-1 lead at half-time.
Newcastle tightened up their rearguard after the break but the damage had been done and the basement boys could not force an equaliser. Sydney's compact defence helped extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches heading into the bye week, equalling their own all-time Hyundai A-League record of 34 points after 13 games which Graham Arnold's team set in 2017/18.
The Jets had made a promising start to post-Merrick life in the Hunter and the returning Abdiel Arroyo, playing for the first time since Round 8, should have done better with a close-range header from Matt Millar’s cross, but Sydney landed a blow with their first real attack in the 14th minute.
Ninkovic outmuscled Nick Fitzgerland and set Barbarouses away in the left-hand channel. The Kiwi provided the goods for Le Fondre to finish his 11th first-half goal of the season and seventh on the road in six matches, but Newcastle refused to let their heads drop and quickly offered a response.
Ugarkovic had already taken aim with one strike that flew straight at Andrew Redmayne but, after Arroyo drove forward and teed him up, the midfielder lashed a long-range effort into the top corner for his second goal of the season, and only sixth career goal for the Jets, on 21 minutes to level it up.
The Sky Blues split the hosts open again on 34 minutes, as Ben Kantarovski let Ninkovic stroll into the box and roll the ball square for a simple Barbarouses finish, but the visitors had Redmayne to thank for keeping them ahead at half-time after their gloveman smothered at Jason Hoffman’s feet following Nick Fitzgerald’s teasing through ball.
The rock bottom club came out fighting after the break as Ugarkovic and FItzgerald combined superbly and Arroyo’s close-range strike cannoned back off the Sydney crossbar on 53 minutes. Deans’ plans were disrupted when keeper Glen Moss was forced off with a calf injury after taking a goal kick and Lewis Italiano was introduced on 67 minutes.
But the 29-year-old substitute never had a shot to be worried about as the Hunter side threw bodies forward but could not break down the league leaders' resolute defence. The Jets, who are now without a win in six matches, led the total shot count with 14 attempts to Sydney’s four.
Le Fondre at it again as Sydney take early lead
If Jets supporters were hoping for a dead cat’s bounce following their tumultuous week they were soon disappointed as Sydney took the lead on the back of turnover from the home side.
The ruthless Sky Blues counter-attack was driven by Milos Ninkovic and finished by Adam Le Fondre on the back of a squared ball from Kosta Barbarouses.
It was his sixth goal in seven away games for the English striker as he continues his prolific scoring form this season and again edges ahead in the Golden Boot race.
Jets draw level with Ugarkovic's stunning strike
Just as the visitors were looking settled, a piece of magic from Steven Ugarkovic at the other end levelled terms.
Shaking a marker by cutting back onto his right peg at the top of the box, Ugarkovic steered a pin-point finish past the outstretched Andrew Redmayne.
The goal is the second of the season for the Jets’ midfielder – both coming in the past four games.
Sydney back in front before the break
The league-leading Sky Blues still looked the most likely and restored their lead in the 35th minute through Barbarouses.
Ninkovic again was the architect as he strode into space in the box before teeing up All White Barbarouses with a squared ball from the byline for a close range finish.
The goal is Barbarouses’ seventh goal in his last eleven games against the Jets.
Jets denied by the woodwork
The first goal of the second stanza would prove vital for the Jets to get a result but the hosts failed the capitalise on a gilt-edged chance just minutes after the restart.
A clever combination between Abdiel Arroyo and Nick Fitzgerald prised open the Sydney defence in the penalty area but the resulting shot from the Panamanian attacker could only find the crossbar from close range.
It would prove Arroyo's final meaningful contribution as he was soon substituted by Craig Deans.
Ways to watch
Melbourne City v Newcastle Jets
Saturday, 18 January 2020
Kick off: 7.30pm AEDT
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