To Sydney’s credit, they got the job done with depleted stocks. They had eight players unavailable and started the match without four regulars – Luke Brattan, Brandon O’Neill, Rhyan Grant and Michael Zullo – and remained clinical with the few chances they could muster.
Sydney took the lead in the 14th minute. Teenager Joel King dispossessed Nick Fitzgerald in the middle of the park to set up a counter attack, and then Milos Ninkovic took control. The Serbian international fed Anthony Caceres into space, and his well-timed cross was calmly slotted into the net by Adam Le Fondre.
The hosts didn’t take long to reply. Midfielder Steven Ugarkovic drew level with arasping shot from 20m that left Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne stranded.
Sydney’s classy forward line exposed the fragility of Newcastle’s backline again in the 36th minute. Ninkovic split their defence with a perfectly weighted cross to set up an easy finish for Kosta Barbarouses while the Jets defenders remained static, watching as if they were tourists in their own box.
Despite their defensive frailties, the Jets showed plenty of promise going forward and almost levelled again minutes after the restart. Panama international striker Abdiel Arroyo beat Redmayne from close range but not the cross bar, and his powerful shot cannoned back into play.
Their hopes of a comeback suffered another blow after the hour whenveteran goalkeeper Glen Moss succumbed to a calf injury and had to be replaced by Lewis Italiano.
From that point, Sydney sat deep and invited the Jets forward in hope of an equaliser. Whether it was a sign of their contentment with the narrow lead or perhaps just confidence, there were times the Sky Blues looked complacent. They struggled to break through Newcastle with the same fluidity as the first half and lacked the intensity off the ball and the composure with it.
By the end, they had fallen into a rare defensive mindset. They looked to slow the game down at every opportunity, force breaks in play and even finished with six defenders on the park as coach Steve Corica’s substitutions had little purpose beyond bolstering their back line. Much to the frustration of the home fans, it worked. Sydney FC did just enough to hang on for their 11th win of the season to open up a 12-point lead at the top of the table.