It was Old Boys weekend and the RAAF round as Sydney FC made the trip up the M1 to face their closest rivals, the resurgent Newcastle Jets.
The Old Boys stretched right back to the city’s original National league side, Newcastle KB United.
At a function over the weekend, former Socceroo and Breakers coach John Kosmina recounted how hard it was to come to the International Sports Centre in the late 1970s and face KB United – so much so that the powerhouse club of the era, Sydney City, signed their best player, Col Curran.
Fast forward 40 years and Sydney FC – every bit as dominant this season as the Sydney City club of the NSL – came to town in front of a crowd of ‘KB United’ proportions with a chance to all but wrap up the Premiers Plate.
If this was a grand final preview, then bring on the grand final.
Only a quarter of an hour after the RAAF jets completed their awesome second flyover, Sydney defender Jordy Buijs rolled around on the ground like one of them had strafed him with machine gun fire, clutching his face as if he were Mark Lewin and had just had fire thrown in his face by Abdullah the Butcher (supporters old enough to remember KB United will get that reference).
The subsequent red card to Roy O’Donovan could have spoiled the game as a spectacle, but instead ignited it, as the Jets faithful had a villain to boo and a ten-man team to lift.
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Led courageously by captain Nigel Boogard – the local lad whose father, Michael, played for KB United – the Jets didn’t just sit back and try to soak up the inevitable pressure. Instead, they continued to press forward, trusting their central defensive duo of Boogard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley could repel a Sydney attack that has scored for fun this season.
When Dimi Petratos converted a penalty late in the first half, the roar could be heard at Williamtown RAAF base. McDonald Jones Stadium, which has had more names than a witness protection informant, was rocking.
As if scripted to do so, Buijs curled a free kick into the box early in the second half and Bobo headed home his 22nd goal of the season. Only had Buijs scored himself would the deflation of the moment been more pronounced.
This was what many had feared – the Sky Blue machine clicking into gear and making the most of their numerical advantage, assuming control and doing to the Jets what they had done to almost every other opponent this season.
However, the city of Newcastle is built on resilience and this is reflected in their sporting teams.
Within minutes, Andrew Nabbout, playing what would be his last game for the Jets, picked the ball up wide on the left, cut inside and unleashed a low thunderbolt from 25 metres that ballooned the net and popped the crowd.
From that point, Newcastle could have made the game safe with chances falling to Petratos and Daniel Georgievski inside the peanlty area in the last 15 minutes. But this script, highlighted early by ham acting, called for the cliffhanger finish, and so it was as the Jets continually threw bodies in the way of goalbound efforts from the reigning champions.
With less than ten minutes to go, Boogard appeared to hyper-extend his troublesome knee as he landed badly after contesting a header. In perhaps a pointed rebuke to Buijs, he refused a stretcher and hobbled off the park to watch as his team endured six minutes of injury time to record a famous victory.
It was a great game, played in front of a crowd that has become reconnected with their team this season, and who became the 11th man when O’Donovan was sent off.
It is a shame that Nabbout is leaving to join Urawa Red Diamonds in the J-League, for his absence will be keenly felt, but he deserves the move and should now be under consideration for an extended Socceroos squad as World Cup warm-up games approach.
And the Jets have already covered up the absences of Ronald Vargas and Patito Rodriguez admirably in a season where they continue to defy injuries and recent history to sit comfortably in the top two.
You sense they may have higher to fly yet.