Soccer: Late header sinks Phoenix

Newcastle 3
Phoenix 2

Leo Bertos was a standout performer for the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images
Leo Bertos was a standout performer for the Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images

A late header from Newcastle Jets substitute Jason Naidovski inflicted defeat on the Wellington Phoenix in their A-League soccer season opener in Newcastle yesterday.

Naidovski latched on to a cross from Sean Rooney in the 84th minute to break the deadlock at EnergyAustralia Stadium after the sides were locked 2-2 for most of the second half.

Inspired by a standout performance from Leo Bertos, the Phoenix looked to have done enough to snatch a draw after goals from defender Ben Sigmund and English debutant striker Chris Greenacre.

But Rooney slipped from Sigmund's close attention down the left and got a cross away under pressure to find Naidovski and send a crowd of 6655 into raptures.

It continued the Phoenix's record of slow starts in the A-League, after they drew their season openers in the past two seasons, while Newcastle, last year's wooden spooners, made a winning start for new coach Branko Culina.

The match had potential to turn ugly for the Phoenix who trailed 2-0 in the 22nd minute thanks to sluggish defence which saw two goals from striker Jason Hoffman.

The opener came when Barbadian striker Paul Ifill was burned off by Tarek Elrich, who chipped a pinpoint ball to Hoffman, and the second when Jin-Hyung Song found open space in the penalty area, his shot was parried by goalkeeper Mark Paston and Hoffman tapped in.

But the visitors made the most of their limited chances late in the half.

Bertos' pinpoint free kick found the towering Sigmund, who headed home in the 26th minute then, two minutes before halftime, Bertos stole the ball on halfway and put Greenacre in the clear.

With his first shot on goal in the A-League, the prolific former Tranmere Rovers marksman hit it low to Jets goalkeeper Ben Kennedy, who should have saved, but the ball trickled into the net.

The Phoenix defence tightened in the second half and there were some heavy challenges, with Jon McKain and Tony Lochhead both booked by referee Chris Beath.

Bertos hit a long-range attempt, then a free kick, just wide, while Paston denied the tiring Jets at the other end when he saved Elrich's powerful attempt at the goal.

Signed from Crystal Palace to help fill the gap left by the departed Shane Smeltz, Ifill looked short of a gallop and made way for Daniel in the 68th minute.

Hoffman then blew a royal chance for his hat-trick when he headed wide from close range and the Phoenix looked to be clinging on to a valuable away point.

The Wellington side host Perth Glory, also first-round losers, next Sunday. NZPA

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