Updated: 8:55am – Riley McGree’s wonder goal has inspired Newcastle past Melbourne City and into the A-League grand final.
The Jets came back from a goal down to dispense with an in-form City 2-1 at a wet McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night, booking their place in next weekend’s decider against either Sydney FC or Melbourne Victory.
Down 1-0 after Bruno Fornaroli forced Nikolai Topor-Stanley into a first-half own goal, the Jets’ fairytale season was slowly slipping down the hole of their own wastefulness.
But McGree’s stunning scorpion kick helped Ernie Merrick’s side turn the tide before Jason Hoffman completed the comeback to ensure the league’s entertainers surged from wooden-spooners to grand finalists in a single season.
“We knew if we scored the crowd would get vocal,” an ecstatic Merrick said.
“It’s that white noise that makes a big difference.”
It spelled a heartbreaking end to Melbourne City’s quest to make its first decider.
“It’s raw at the minute,” City coach Warren Joyce said.
“I’m frustrated, disappointed, upset for a lot of people at the football club.”
The drama started early in an affair featuring all the hallmarks of a semi-final showdown.
City started with calculated rhythm, in stark contrast with the feverish Jets, who threw numbers on the ball at every counter-attacking opportunity.
And it nearly yielded early joy when Hoffman spurned a sitter that would have put the Jets ahead after eight minutes, heading over the bar in front of goal after a sublime free-kick from the ever-lively Dimi Petratos.
For all the trouble the Jets caused, City drew first blood when Scott Jamieson fed Dario Vidosic on the wing.
The attacker crossed for Fornaroli and the Uruguayan got enough on his finish to re-route the ball into Topor-Stanley, who diverted it over the goal line.
Newcastle responded by hurtling up the other end where McGree fired over
Daniel Arzani recovered from Ronny Vargas’ stray elbow to his face to deliver some customary sparkling moments and was duly targeted by the Jets.
Steven Ugarkovic was booked for bringing down the Socceroo-in-waiting before Johnny Koutroumbis, the man handed the unenviable task of marking the teen sensation, and was lucky not to concede a penalty.
The Jets camp waited nervously as the video assistant referee reviewed the contact in the area but referee Shaun Evans upheld his decision to leave it.
By the time Koutroumbis wasted a chance to equalise just before the break, the pace had settled and Jack Duncan had been forced off with an apparent torn quad, with Glen Moss installed in his place.
There were flashes of Petratos all over the park and the Socceroos playmaker’s dead-ball work was near-perfect, missing only the elusive finish that wouldn’t come.
McGree delivered in the 57th minute in an effort that had to be seen to be believed.
The 19-year-old played a one-two with Vargas and, just in front of the return pass at the top of the penalty box, whipped up his leg and flicked the ball off his heel, over his head and beyond Bouzanis.
The outrageous effort sent the 19,131 spectators into raptures and the Jets lifted in search of a regulation-time winner.
It arrived in the 75th minute via an error from the otherwise superb Osama Malik.
The defender took a heavy touch intercepting Joe Champness’ cross and sent the ball straight into the path of Hoffman, who obliged with a straightforward finish.
Featured image: Photo: Photosport