Melbourne City was the last team to return to A-League action, kicking off their short end-of-season campaign against the newly crowned premiers Sydney FC.
A 20-metre strike from Steve Ugarkovic has given Newcastle a 2-1 win over Melbourne City in what was likely the last match of Australian professional sport for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Football Federation Australia announcing the suspension of the A-League season, the result of the Round 26 game on Monday night may have little meaning in the long run.
The decision from FFA comes after the NRL announced the suspension of its season on Monday evening, leaving the A-League as the last national competition still standing.
Ugarkovic’s winner on 78 minutes, though, was a goal to remember as ninth-placed Newcastle upset second-placed City at an empty McDonald Jones Stadium.
The midfielder, now with four goals for the season, struck from the top of the box and found the back of the net off goalkeeper Tom Glover’s outstretched hand.
It capped an exciting, high-quality game in uncertain times and Jets coach Carl Robinson said both teams stood tall.
“Their heads, I can’t talk for other people, I can only talk for me, and I say who knows where their heads are at, but for the 94 minutes, my players were in it, and so was Melbourne, so they deserve a lot of credit tonight,” Robinson said.
The focus, though, from both sides post-game was on the bigger picture.
“I’m more worried about everyone’s health and safety,” Robinson said about what could have been for Newcastle this season.
“I could be selfish and think about myself and the team, but I’ve got no interest in that at the moment. It’s important we find out what’s going in the world in general.”
City assistant coach Patrick Kisnorbo praised his club’s efforts.
“Our team has done great,” Kisnorbo said.
“The players, the staff, we’ve come from Melbourne, we’ve been away for a week, to try and get these games up and running.
“This is our second game in three days, so we’ve done everything we possible can to keep the league going. Sometimes things get taken away from you, but I can’t complain about the players and the staff. They’ve done tremendous in difficult circumstances.”
Nick Fitzgerald gave Newcastle a deserved edge at half-time with a composed finish in stoppage time after a pinpoint long ball from Dimitri Petratos.
Fitzgerald cut back twice onto his left foot to make space before burying the chance for his first A-League goal since scoring for City against Brisbane in the 2017-18 finals.
Newcastle had the better of the first half, firing off eight shots to City’s three, with four to nil on target.
Roles were reversed after the break as City increased the pressure on Newcastle until substitute Florin Berenguer nodded in the equaliser at the back post off a cross from Craig Noone in the 71st. Newcastle likely finished their season on a high, but still in ninth spot.
Retiring Jets keeper Glen Moss played the final five minutes in his likely final match.
The FFA were aiming to wrap up the season with a condensed schedule, but the federal government has since advised against “non-essential travel” within Australia because of the coronavirus threat.