SKIPPER Nigel Boogaard ended a 15-month drought and Riley McGree opened his goal-scoring account as the Newcastle Jets beat Melbourne Victory 2-0 in a tense clash at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Boogaard put the Jets ahead in the 30th minute before replacement McGree, playing his second game, sealed the win in the 72nd minute.
The visitors opened up the Jets a number of times, but were denied by brilliant goalkeeping from Jack Duncan and desperate scrambling defence.
Besart Berisha, who has a poor record in Newcastle, could have scored a hat-trick on another night.
Credit to the home side, they defended as though their lives depended on it until the final whistle.
Boogaard’s goal was the defender’s first since October last year and just the seventh in 211 appearances.
The win was Newcastle’s 11th for the campaign and moved them to 37 points, seven clear of third-placed Melbourne City, who meet Brisbane on Sunday. The Jets now have an 18-point buffer to seventh place with eight games remaining.
Play was held up for five minutes early in the second half after a nasty head clash between Andrew Nabbout and Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas, with the latter carried from the field on a stretcher.
With new Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk in the stands, Dimi Petratos produced a commanding display to surely improve his chance of a call up to the national team.
Boogaard, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and the midfield pair of Ben Kantarovski and Steve Ugarkovic were also strong, especially in the opening 45 minutes.
The Jets just shaded Victory in a tense first half. The visitors had 59% of possession but the Jets had the upper hand on the scoreboard.
Roy O’Donovan was pitched into the Jets starting side after missing eight games with a torn groin and the Irishman had a golden chance to put the home side ahead in the 16th minute.
Petratos took a quick freekick after Kantarovski was fouled and swung a wicked cross to the far post. O’Donovan got in behind the defence but his header flashed past the right post.
It had been a cagey opening up until that point.
Victory are lethal in transition and nearly made the Jets pay for a sloppy turnover in the 19th minute. Kosta Barbarouses exploded down the right and fired a stinging shot which was well saved by Jack Duncan at the near post.
Rhys Williams blazed a volley wide in the 29th minute as the visitors started to build pressure.
But the it was the Jets who opened the scoring a minute later.
Nabbout was fouled five metres in from the left touchline. With a southerly at his back, Petratos whipped a cross into the penalty area for Boogaard, who muscled in front of Williams and glanced a header into the right corner.
The Jets needed another brilliant save from Duncan, dropping low to his left to deny Berisha, to ensure they went to the break in the lead.
In a helter skelter start to the second half, Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas was carried off on a stretcher with a head injury after a collision with Nabbout.
They both were going flat out for a Petratos through ball. The keeper got their just ahead of Nabbout and punched the ball and then collided with the Jets player.
Thomas received treatment but couldn’t continue and was replaced by Matt Acton.
There was no intent by Nabbout, but he was given a yellow card by referee Shaun Evans.
With Victory winning ascendancy in the middle of the park, Jets coach Ernie Merrick introduced McGree for a tiring O’Donovan.
Berisha, who has only scored two goals in 10 visits to Newcastle, had a header slip past the far post as his chances continued to rack up.
Then, against the run of play, the Jets struck in the 72nd minute.
Jason Hoffman, breaking on the counter, threaded a ball forward for Nabbout, who cut back a cross from near the byline for McGree to slot home at the back post.
* Western Sydney Wanderers beat Melbourne City 3-1 in extra-time to win the final of the National Youth League championship at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.