Newcastle Jets commenced 2016 with a narrow 1-0 loss to reigning Hyundai A-League Premiers and Champions Melbourne Victory at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
Fahid Ben Khalfallah’s 71st minute strike ensured the Victory took the three points back to Melbourne following a fixture in which both sides created a number of chances to score yet largely lacked the finishing touch.
The Jets created the first opportunity of the contest in the third minute when Milos Trifunović’s header was claimed by Melbourne custodian Danny Vukovic.
Newcastle goalkeeper Mark Birighitti was kept on his toes early on, but proved able to palm away efforts from Ben Khalfallah as well as Archie Thompson.
Shortly after the quarter hour mark the Jets were almost presented with a golden opportunity, however Ben Kantarovski lost his footing inside the eighteen-yard box after Ryan Kitto had won a challenge on the goal line.
In the 31st minute another chance evaded the home side, as Enver Alivodic’s return pass in a one-two with fellow Serb Trifunovic inside the box was too far behind the number nine for him to get a foot to the ball.
Several players entered the second stanza needing to be on their best behaviour, with Jason Hoffman, Berisha, and Ben Khalfallah all receiving yellow cards in the first 45.
Minutes into the second stanza another opportunity arose for the Jets. Hoffman leapt to meet an in-swinging Kitto corner, but his header flew over the woodwork.
In the 51st minute Oliver Bozanic sent Birighitti the wrong way, however Hoffman saved the day, blocking a shot that was destined to find the bottom right hand corner and open the scoring.
Twenty minutes later Ben Khalfallah would open the scoring from an almost identical position with a calm left foot finish, slotting home a Barbarouses cross-field pass to give Melbourne the lead. Victory’s goal came in transition from a Jets corner – the Melburnians turning a worrisome situation into a joyous one in a matter of seconds.
With just over 15 minutes remaining Trifunovic latched onto a Cameron Watson cross with a strong header that almost leveled the scores, however the safe hands of Vukovic denied him and the vocal home crowd.
The Jets pushed hard for a late leveler, most notably in added time when Alivodic fired over the bar after receiving an accurate pass from substitute Radovan Pavicevic.
Neither side could add to Khalfallah’s goal however, with the Victory holding out for a narrow win.Both teams remain in the positions in which they entered the round, Newcastle in eighth two points outside the Hyundai A-League’s top six, and Melbourne in fifth.
Newcastle Jets 0
Melbourne Victory 1 (Ben Khalfallah 71’)
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Referee: Jarred Gillett
Newcastle Jets: 1. Mark Birighitti (Gk), 2. Daniel Mullen, 3. Jason Hoffman, 4. Nigel Boogaard (C), 5. Ben Kantarovski, 6. Cameron Watson, 7. Enver Alivodic, 8. Mateo Poljak, 9. Milos Trifunovic (17. Radovan Pavicevic 78’), 24. Nicholas Cowburn, 28. Ryan Kitto (27. Braedyn Crowley 66’)
Substitutes not used: 14. Mitch Cooper, 20. Ben Kennedy (Gk), 22. Lachlan Jackson
Yellow cards: Watson, Hoffman, Boogaard
Red cards: Nil
Melbourne Victory: 1. Danny Vukovic (Gk), 2. Jason Geria, 5. Daniel Georgievski, 6. Leigh Broxham (C), 8. Besart Berisha (22. Jesse Makarounas 90’), 9. Kosta Barbarouses, 10. Archie Thompson (11. Connor Pain 67’), 13. Oliver Bozanic, 14. Fahid Ben Khalfallah (16 Rashid Mahazi 79’), 17. Matthieu Delpierre, 24. Thomas Deng
Substitutes not used: 18. Dylan Murnane, 20. Lawrence Thomas (Gk)
Yellow cards: Ben Khalfallah, Berisha, Deng, Bozanic
Red cards: Nil