In the 24th minute of the Newcastle Jets home game against new boys Macarthur FC a collective groan was stifled by a combination of masks and celebratory cowbells.
Matt Derbyshire’s header from a Loic Puyo corner had put the Sydney outfit 2-0 up and the majority of Novocastrians must have been thinking, “Here we go. The floodgates are about to open”.
The Jets fought their way back into the game with Valentino Yuel scoring his first goal in the blue, red and gold. The injury-time handball (or not handball) by Macarthur central defender Aleksandar Susnjar left the Newy faithful fuming.
It certainly was not lost on those in attendance that the incident occurred at the ‘cursed’ end of the ground. Okay, it’s not cursed, but the offside-onside VAR call in 2018 grand final debacle still rankles for some. For the record, referee Ben Abraham did get the handball decision technically right.
Three days later and Newcastle fans left Hunter Stadium shaking their heads in total disbelief. It had been 17 shots to Newcastle and four for Brisbane; 56 balls into the area for the Jets, nine for the Roar; and a massive 56 per cent possession for the home side.
Brisbane must have breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of proceedings when they walked away with a 2-1 win.
Between these two fixtures the then interim coach came out publicly in support of Roy O’Donovan. His form slump had been noted by many, and he hadn’t even bagged a goal during the preseason. This was certainly an inspired piece of man-management and a show of faith in the now O’Donovan. There were plenty of good signs in the first four fixtures, just without points to show for it.
Finally Newcastle’s fortunes have turned favourably with two gutsy wins over Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City along with a well-deserved draw against Western Sydney Wanderers. Roy O’Donovan is back on the goal sheet with two and Yuel has extended his goal count to four.
With Matthew Millar on board and Lachlan Jackson back from injury, Newcastle’s squad is gaining depth. More good news has arrived in the signing of former Young Socceroo Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, and the side also welcomes two players on loan from Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta’zim: 29-year-old Liridon Krasniqi, who previously played in the Czech Republic and Turkey, and 21-year-old Syahrian Abimanyu, a youth product of La Liga side Levante. All three are available from 16 February.
Newcastle’s season is starting to look brighter. For the first time in a long time even some football journalists are suggesting the Jets as serious contenders for a finals berth.
Craig Deans deserves much of the credit for keeping this squad of players focused and in a positive frame of mind. He’s considered a local now by most fans, having been in and around the Newcastle organisation now since 2003, and his appointment as the full-time coach is a popular choice.
It’s obvious he has the players believing in themselves again, and this season really does feel like it is coming together nicely. With the promise of a full-time assistant coach and more resources at his disposal, success may not be too far away.
Newcastle’s next two fixtures should be very interesting. First up are the high-flying Brisbane Roar, who will be smarting after their recent loss to Macarthur. Away fixtures at Suncorp have previously proved a very happy hunting ground for the travelling Newcastle sides, who have brought home 13 wins and four draws from 20 games. The Redcliffe ground may well be a different prospect, with a vocal Queensland crowd in close and a large attendance expected. It will be a test for Deans’s team.
The second away day will be against a Melbourne Victory team that’s currently on struggle street and looking like serious contenders for a wooden spoon.
Four points from these two matches would be great. Six would be impressive. Fans in the Hunter Valley are starting to smile again, and they’re believing that anything could be possible for the Newcastle Jets.