Jets' A-League finals quest on track
The Newcastle Jets have given their A-League semi-final hopes a major boost, defeating arch rival Central Coast 1-0 at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
A Milton Rodriguez strike was enough to lift the Jets into outright fourth place, one point above the fifth-placed Queensland Roar and three clear of the injury-hit Mariners, who are sixth.
The Jets produced a far superior effort than their listless performance against Sydney FC on New Years Day, showing a determination worthy of a finals berth.
Finding the net with so few in-form goal-scorers proved too difficult for the Mariners, especially with Jets goalkeeper Ante Covic in fine form.
The Socceroo, criticised for an indifferent start to his Newcastle career, pulled off three superb saves.
He dived to stop Damien Brown's swerving left-footed strike after 14 minutes and acrobatically tipped over a Mile Jedinak header from a Brown cross on the half-hour mark.
Matthew Osman was next to be denied, his volley tipped wide by Covic's outstretched arm.
Newcastle started the better of the two sides and took a deserved lead through Rodriguez in the 25th minute.
A Nick Carle pass sent Mark Bridge down the right flank, before Bridge crossed the ball into the penalty box.
An absent Mariners' defence left Rodriguez to slide the ball past goalkeeper Danny Vukovic at the near post.
The Colombian had been recalled to the Jets line-up ahead of Vaughan Coveny.
Bridge missed a gilt-edged chance shortly before half-time, blazing over from close range after a slick Jets passing move involving Carle and Steve Eagleton.
Injuries to key players Andrew Clark, Jamie McMaster, Nick Mrjda, Tom Pondeljak and Tony Vidmar left the Mariners with a severely depleted starting side.
Newcastle coach Gary van Egmond said his side would take confidence from the win.
"We're glad to get the win, not just because it's three points but for the momentum that takes us to the next game," he said.
"We're under no illusions, it's still a tough road with Perth away and Melbourne at home.
"We have to keep working hard."
Van Egmond praised goalkeeper Ante Covic's performance.
"He's had a few knockers in the first couple of games, but he was outstanding tonight.
"He definitely had a bearing on the game.
He said his side played to the condition of the sandy pitch.
"We showed we can grind a result out. We do like to play football, but sometimes it's not possible."
Central Coast coach Lawrie McKinna said his side lacked a killer punch.
"We created chance after chance," McKinna said.
"Covic has pulled off three world-class saves.
"I can't complain about the effort or how we played, it's just that killer punch in front of goal.
"We made one mistake and they scored from it."
McKinna lamented his lack of in-form goalscorers.
"(Adam) Kwasnik is where the goals have been coming from, nobody else has stepped up to the mark," he said.
"We need people to pick up the crumbs. We've not got people anticipating, we're waiting to see where the ball goes.
"We've got people who score, but we need a threat there.
"Nik Mrdja's a goalscoring threat, but he's sitting in the grandstands.
"He's under contract for next year. Hopefully we'll get one good year out of three."