Managing the embattled Central Coast Mariners was one of the last things on Alen Stajcic’s mind when he turned up for work on the 19th of January 2019.
The most optimistic Newcastle Jets fans would have been looking for a demolition job over the Central Coast Mariners after the Mariners’ embarrassing 8-2 defeat against the ‘Nix.
The realists would have known that the Coast players, and newly appointed coach Alen Stajcic, would surely have been concentrating on a solid defensive structure all week.
The other option would have been the crazy ‘banana skin’ theory – the one that thinks the Central Coast may actually defy the odds and win!
So on a wet late afternoon in the Hunter, the script played out initially in the realists’ favour.
In the first half, the Mariners defended well for the most part. The longer the half went, though, the more promising the Jets looked.
It was only a matter of time before the goals would start to fly in and the most optimistic Jets fans would start saying, “I told you so”.
To the astonishment of the 8000-plus crowd – and yes, that includes the travelling Coasties – the banana skin brigade entered the calculations in the 51st minute.
Jordan Murray slotted home and the Central Coast took a lead. Coast captain Jem Karacan added a second and Newcastle were looking well and truly rattled.
By the time Connor Pain’s scuffed shot made it 3-0 some of the crowd had seen enough and left their seats.
This ‘support’ is unfathomable. With more than 20 minutes left, literally anything can happen.
When Roy O’Donovan scored in the 74th minute the bloke next to me said, “It’s too late.”
“No it’s not,” I replied.
The body language of the Central Coast team wasn’t good. Were they thinking, ‘Oh no, not again’?
When Ronnie Vargas scored in the 81st minute the bloke next to me was starting to agree that it wasn’t over yet.
With five minutes of injury time and still a goal down, Newcastle earn a penalty.
At this stage the dreaded VAR starts to kick into action. Eventually O’Donovan gets to step up, but Kennedy saves, only for Daniel Georgievski to score the rebound.
It’s complete mayhem in the stands as Newcastle have stolen a point.
The mayhem turns to madness as the VAR comes into play again. Okay, the VAR was right, encroachment by Georgevski, so Roy O’Donovan gets his chance at redemption.
It was no surprise that he wanted to take the second penalty, but it was a surprise that he went the same way. Chance blown away in a crazy – no, utterly bizarre – second half.
It won’t have been lost on Newcastle Jets fans that two of the goals were set up by Matty Millar, now the player with the most assists in the A-League.
Millar has signed with the Jets for the 2019-20 season and Newy fans can’t wait to welcome him.
I re-watched the game the following day on TV and noted Simon Hill’s pre-match comment: “Australian football. Where real life is often stranger than fiction.”
Jets and Coast fans can definitely put this one in that bracket and congratulations if you labelled this game a potential banana skin.