Home supporters were treated to a feast of attacking football as hosts Newcastle Jets scored a late winner at Jack McLaughlan Oval in Edgeworth on Saturday.
On a postcard perfect afternoon for football in Northern New South Wales, Australia it was a young star of the future, Joe Champness, who stole the headlines with a brilliantly-taken volley to deny Phoenix a rousing second-half revival and seal a 2-1 win for the Jets.
Both sides look to attack at will, with Newcastle in particular looking to exploit the pace of their wide men with long raking balls to the flanks. But just as Phoenix looked to roll over their hosts it was a slick counter and superb finish in the 79th minute from the substitute Champness that sealed the result for the hosts.
It was a bright start by the visitors who enjoyed the lion’s share of the opening exchanges, dictating tempo and controlling possession. Michael McGlinchey fired in an early free kick which Daniel Mullen did well to rise to, but just couldn’t direct on target.
The former Celtic man then combined well in the fifth minute with new striker Andrija Kaludjerovic but the Jets defenders scrambled well to snuff out the danger.
In the 11th minute Gui Finkler drew the first save of the game, with Jack Duncan standing tall, before Scott Galloway struck a follow up effort well over.
From there though the Jets began to grow into the game, finding joy with raking diagonal balls into the channels for Andrew Nabbout and Dimi Petratos to chase. Nabbout found half a yard to fashion the Jets’ first shooting chance in the 21st minute, before Jason Hoffman almost found Roy O’Donovan with a lovely cross.
The Irishman did better minutes later after some confusion at the back for Phoenix saw Mullen drawn out of position, and a quick throw-in from the Jets put the former Mariners sharp-shooter through. He calmly slotted past Lewis Italiano in goals, for the Jets to take the lead in the 27th minute.
Jets’ skipper Nigel Boogaard made a timely intercept minutes later as Adam Parkhouse whipped in a tempting ball for Kaludjerovic, but there were few clear cut chances in the opening stanza as the Jets headed into the sheds with their noses in front.
Phoenix emerged with greater purpose after the break and Jets had their ‘keeper Duncan to thank after not one, not two, but three excellent saves in as many minutes. Kaludjerovic was first to a loose ball from a Wellington corner and his prodded effort drew a sharp save. A half-clearance from the Jets saw the ball return and again it was Kaludjerovic who rose highest to nod goalwards, but Newcastle’s custodian clawed that away too.
A minute later it was Finkler with the opportunity, but again, Duncan stood tall. Inside sixty seconds Wayne Brown thought he was in at the other end but Lewis Italiano matched his opposite numbers’ heroics in a frenetic start to the second half.
As the second half drew on the pace of Krishna was beginning to prove a handful as the Fijian flyer twice sparked transition attacks and a Phoenix goal certainly looked on the cards. Parkhouse fired in another perfect ball and Kaludjerovic peeled off his marker to nod powerfully home in the 64th minute to open his Phoenix account.
Parkhouse then almost fashion a shooting chance for himself before making way in the 75th minute to hand Dario Vidosic his Wellington Phoenix debut as his return to full fitness continues.
As Wellington pressed to wrest the game away from the Jets it was a quick transition that undid them. Ali Abbas charged forward to support Vidosic pushing forward but as the Jets stepped in to win the ball it was youngster Champness who lashed home an unstoppable effort.
Vidosic and fellow substitute Hamish Watson combined after a terrific turn and run from the Socceroo but the striker fired his shot straight at Duncan when perhaps a return ball to Vidosic was on the cards.
A pulsating clash that delighted the vocal home fans, as both sides gave vital minutes to key players.
Phoenix now return to New Zealand where they will take on Team Wellington in a two-header on 23 and 30 September – the former at Westpac Stadium, the latter to be played at the training facilities at Martin Luckie Park as part of Phoenix’s Community Day celebrations.
The A-League season commences on Sunday, October 8 with a 5pm kick-off against Adelaide United.