Culina: Top-two punt backfired

Newcastle coach Branko Culina has defended his decision to replace defender Angelo Costanzo with striker Sean Rooney at half-time of its 3-1 loss to Sydney on Sunday in a bid to keep the Jets' top-two hopes alive.

Newcastle coach Branko Culina has defended his decision to replace defender Angelo Costanzo with striker Sean Rooney at half-time of its 3-1 loss to Sydney on Sunday in a bid to keep the Jets' top-two hopes alive.

At the time the Jets were looking very solid after Jobe Wheelhouse's goal in the 33rd minute was cancelled out by John Aloisi's strike in the 45th minute to see the teams head to the break locked a 1-1.

Culina, who was presiding over his 300th game at national level in Australia, brought on Rooney in an attempt to win the game.

"Costanzo's role was there to try to keep the game alive, once they equalised it changed," Culina explained.

"We wanted to go for a win. If we wanted to make the top two we had to win the game, so everything went according to plan until they scored a goal."

"We scored which was great and the idea of playing Costanzo was good as it gave us an extra little bit of cover and security at the back."

"But once they scored I took a bit of a punt and put on an attacking player and I thought it worked then five minutes into the second half you saw what happened."

Culina was referring to former Newcastle player Stuart Musalik's stunning goal from a low, swerving strike from 30 yards out which handed Sydney a 2-1 lead.

Culina lamented his side allowing two goals in the crucial five-minute period either side of half-time.

"The goal just before half-time really killed us," he said. "We just lost a little bit of concentration and discipline and we paid the price for it."

"We identified that after the Gold Coast game that we need to concentrate more and be a bit more disciplined, if we are going to be a top team it is not enough to do it for parts of the game."

Despite the loss Culina believes his side will still earn a finals berth. The Jets are in fourth spot on the A-League ladder with 34 points, just one point ahead of fifth-placed Perth and three ahead of Wellington who are sixth with three rounds left to play.

The Jets have away matches to North Queensland and the Mariners before playing their final match of the regular season against Adelaide at home.

"I don't think it (the loss) makes much difference to the top six," he said. "But from a top-two point of view it does because we now have no chance of making that."