A stunning last-gasp finish from Sergio Van Dijk has given the Queensland Roar the perfect Christmas gift, with the home side completing a 2-1 win over Newcastle in a thrilling A-League clash in Brisbane.
The match looked destined for a draw before Danny Tiatto fired in a cross to the powerful Dutchman in the 90th minute, who acrobatically leapt to flick a left-footed strike past diving Jets keeper Ante Covic.
It is the first time the Roar have beaten the Jets at Suncorp Stadium, with the defending A-League champions having won in their past five trips to Brisbane.
The result sees the Roar claim third place on the ladder, while the Jets – who ended the Roar’s run in last year’s finals – can all but kiss their finals hopes goodbye, languishing 10 points from fourth place with six rounds to play.
It looked as if the Jets would continue to haunt the Roar at home when star striker Joel Griffiths struck after 26 minutes, claiming an incredible eight goals in as many starts against the Queenslanders.
But a first-half stoppage time header from replacement Mitch Nichols and Van Dijk’s sudden-death heroics turned the tables for the Queenslanders. It could have been settled earlier, when Tiatto and Michael Zullo both hit the woodwork within seconds of each other in the 87th minute.
The Jets are likely to be fuming about the 70th minute send-off of the desperately unlucky Jobe Wheelhouse, who was shown a second yellow card for a seemingly harmless tackle on Tahj Minniecon.
Suncorp Stadium’s new half million dollar surface was looking every inch its hefty price tag, not that it helped the Roar’s messy midfield early in the piece, who gave away a glut of cheap ball in the first half.
Wheelhouse did his best to level the footings, being shown a yellow card in the 11th minute for clumsily lifting his boots across the chest of Van Dijk.
The poor communication in the Roar midfield was starting to become viral, with a mix-up between defender Luke De Vere and keeper Liam Reddy almost proving costly in the 21st minute, when a turnover fell into the lap of Tarek Elrich.
With the goal begging, the striker hesistated to pull the trigger, giving the home side a brief respite. It didn’t last for long.
There was a strange sense of inevitability about Griffiths’ 26th minute finish. Like the storms that have been belting Queensland almost daily, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when.
When Wheelhouse tucked a long ball in behind Tiatto to set Griffiths racing, the alarm bells were screaming. When Griffiths chipped a lavish, angled finish to wrong-foot Reddy in the Roar goal for his sixth of the season, the damage had been done.
Frustrated and frazzled, Tiatto blew his top in the December heat, being shown a yellow card for a sliding tackle on James Holland in the 29th minute. His booking means he will miss the post-Christmas home game against Wellington on December 28.
Farina was more composed, pulling Andrew Packer in the 36th minute to switch his side to a 3-4-3 formation, sending blonde striker Nichols into the fray.
The 19-year-old had an immediate impact, rolling one just wide of Covic minutes after he took the field. But the crowd of 11,048 fans would have to wait until first-half stoppage time for the encore.
With time ticking down in the half, Matt McKay drifted in a dipping cross to find Nichols all alone at the far post. He dove at full stretch to poke the ball home between a furious Covic and Ben Kantarovski.
The effort from Nichols masked a patchy first half from the Roar, while both sides opened up the play noticeably when the match resumed.
The threat of Griffiths never subsides. In the 55th minute, he looked home again, sprinting down the right to have a good look at the net. It was only the frantic hustling of Roar skipper Craig Moore that stood between Griffiths and a 2-1 scoreline.
Griffiths nearly struck again off the resulting corner. This time it was Massimo Murdocca meeting the attacking header with one of his own to stave off the raid.
Fortunes swung dramatically in the 70th minute when Wheelhouse was shown his second yellow in highly controversial circumstances.
Wheelhouse slid in for the tackle on Minniecon, appearing to glance the ball and miss the player altogether. Minniecon continued on, falling of his own accord trying to round another defender but referee Ben Williams had already reached for his pocket.
Furious Jets players rallied against the decision, with skipper Jade North being shown a yellow of his own for his protestations.
If the Roar thought the home curse was over, they would have cause for a rethink after events in the 87th minute. First Tiatto’s searing strike hit the woodwork after having Covic beaten, then Zullo’s shot on the rebound looked home – only to suffer the same misfortune.
The night was a milestone for Roar youngster Tommy Oar, who made his A-League debut midway through the second half after turning 17 last Wednesday.