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Jan 18, 2008

Jets stay in minor premiership hunt

Newcastle kept their A-League minor premiership hopes alive with a hard-fought 2-1 win over ten-man Perth at Energy Australia Stadium.

Jets striker Mark Bridge's 64th-minute goal secured the final-round win after Perth's Jamie Harnwell's scored on the stroke of halftime to cancel out A-League leading scorer Joel Griffiths' opener.

Griffiths' 22nd minute header took his goal tally for the season to 12, breaking Melbourne striker Danny Allsopp's regular-season haul of 11 set last year.

The Glory played most of the match with ten men after winger Nick Rizzo was shown a red card in the 36th minute for a late, studs-up challenge on Tarek Elrich.

The win moved the Jets temporarily to outright first on the A-League ladder, three points ahead of Queensland, Sydney FC and Central Coast, who are all involved in separate matches this weekend.

The result improved their goal difference to +4, one ahead of Central Coast (+3) and equal with Sydney FC (+4) but two shy of Queensland (+6).

That means the Jets need all three sides to either draw or lose their matches to claim top spot, as even a one-goal win by the Mariners would see them finish ahead of Newcastle because of a superior goal tally.

The result at least boosted the Jets' chances of a top-two finish and two bites at the cherry in the finals.

Griffiths should have opened the scoring in just the 4th minute when Adam D'Apuzzo's corner landed at his feet but the striker side-footed his volley across the face of goal.

He made amends in the 22nd minute when some crafty footwork and a fine cross from Matt Thompson provided him with the easiest of headers.

The Glory's cause suffered a severe blow when Rizzo was sent off but they stole an equaliser on the stroke of halftime when Harnwell scored his eighth of the season.

Defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley headed goalwards from a Glory corner but found Harnwell who calmly steered the ball into the back of the net with his head.

Despite their disadvantage in numbers Perth fought on well in the second half and remained in the contest.

But the Jets reclaimed the lead in the 64th minute through Bridge.

D'Apuzzo was again involved, this time slicing open the Glory defence with a pin-point through ball, to unleash Bridge, who cooly slotted the ball past Perth 'keeper Petkovic.

The dangerous Elrich was denied a stunning long-range goal in the 77th only by the right-hand upright, while Harnwell missed a good heading chance to equalise in the 81st.

Wet weather dashed hopes of a record crowd, but more than 16,000 fans still turned up to cheer on the Jets.

Newcastle coach Gary van Egmond rued a missed chance to improve his side's goal differential, but was happy to have secured the three points.

"First and foremost it was important that we won, and secured the three points," van Egmond said.

"Would we have like to have scored more goals? Yes.

"But there's going to be plenty of pressure on these other teams now.

"They have to win the game and they have to go out and play attacking football.

"They've got a number (of players) on yellow cards ... so if they play and get a yellow their finals series is over."

With three straight wins behind them, van Egmond said he felt the Jets were genuine title contenders.

"If we finish top two we're only going to get better," van Egmond said.

"The players have been there last year which puts them in really good stead for these finals now.

"If we get into the top two I think we'll give it a real shake."

Perth coach Dave Mitchell was proud of the way his team dealt with being reduced to ten men.

"I think it was a bit of a harsh sending off," Mitchell said.

"The first half we were lucky to go in equal ... but I was very happy with the second half performance."

The Glory remain in seventh but will finish with the wooden spoon if Wellington can get a result against the Mariners on Saturday.