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Jan, 27, 2008

Griffiths double seals Jets 2-0 win

Newcastle are on the cusp of qualifying for their maiden A-League grand final after defeating rivals Central Coast 2-0 in a controversial opening leg of the major semi-final.

Adam Griffiths' 22nd minute header and brother Joel's late penalty at a raucous EnergyAustralia Stadium give the Jets a significant advantage heading into the second leg in Gosford in a fortnight.

But the Mariners may well feel aggrieved they will not return home with at least one away goal after World Cup hero John Aloisi missed a first half penalty and was then denied what appeared a legitimate equaliser for offside.

The Jets now need only a draw or one-goal loss from the return leg to book their place in the grand final in Sydney on February 24, while the Mariners must win by at least two goals to stand a chance of avoiding a preliminary final against either Sydney FC or Queensland Roar.

Central Coast have now gone eight games without a win against their NSW rivals and, despite being minor premiers, face a tough ask turning the tide on February 10.

Jets star Joel Griffiths, the league's leading scorer and player of the year favourite, loomed as the big danger in the F3 derby, but it was his brother Adam who gave the home side the lead with a superb diving header midway through the first half.

Moments before, Griffiths, returning from a two-game suspension, had very nearly headed into his own net.

But the 27-year-old made no mistake at the other end when he beat Mile Jedinak to the ball after James Holland whipped in a low cross to the near post.

Moments later, the Mariners seemed destined to be back on equal terms when referee Matthew Breeze deemed Jets captain Jade North had fouled Sasho Petrovski in the box.

But Aloisi, the man whose penalty against Uruguay in November 2005 sent Australia to the World Cup, shanked his spot-kick wide left despite sending Jets' goalkeeper Ante Covic the wrong way.

Central Coast's bad luck continued in the shadows of halftime when midfielder John Hutchinson hit the inside of the post from a searing free kick only to watch in wonder as the ball somehow clattered back into the field and away to safety.

Seconds later, Aloisi looked to have scored after drilling home a Tom Pondeljak cross.

But the goal was disallowed for offside by the linesman, despite the Socceroos star appearing a half-yard behind James Holland in the box.

The Mariners continued to push hard for a vital away goal in the second half, but were unable to convert with substitute Matt Simon missing a golden opportunity in the 82nd minute when he hammered his shot from 10 metres straight at Covic.

It proved a costly miss as the Jets took a 2-0 lead just three minutes later when Joel Griffiths scored his 13th goal of the season - making no mistake from the penalty spot after Holland went down in the box under pressure from Andre Gumprecht.

Sydney and Queensland drew the first leg of their elimination semi-final 0-0 on Friday with the return match in Brisbane on February 8.

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