Coldplay’s Paradise greets our entrance to the ground. They’ve either got very low expectations round these parts or they had a big helping of irony thrown in with the deal that, last year, brought one of English football’s cult heroes to this part of New South Wales.

It’s Saturday afternoon in Newcastle. What else can a man do but head to the football?

The Hunter Stadium, principally the home of the Newcastle Knights rugby league team, during the Australian Premier League season hosts the Newcastle United Jets. Presumably wearing the Knights red and blue is a caveat of the tenancy agreement. This is Newcastle United, but not as any regulars of the Gallowgate End would recognise them.

The Jets players saunter on to the field for the warm up. He’s not there. The raison d’être of my weekend, no where to be seen. Not just my weekend, two Plymouth Argyle fans have also come to Newcastle for the weekend just to see him.

He’s definitely not there. A deflating moment.

Lets be honest, as England fans we shouldn’t be surprised. This is yet another moment where Emile Heskey has failed to turn up.

I’m here with Alex and Ellis, themselves touring this great country, and similarly sports tragics. We take our places on the grass bank behind the goal and soak up the atmosphere of a matchday in Newcastle, Australia style.
The Carousel, a local band, kick off the music side of things. Spouting snarly American covers and home made grunge they are as far removed from Rodgers & Hammerstein as you can get. Dire Straits blaring Local Hero, a happy feature of watching the Magpies home games on Match Of The Day is replaced by a local Aussie legend; the best part of ten thousand people join in with the chorus of INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart. As unexpected as it is surreally beautiful.

Then the Ultras take over, not for them The Blaydon Races. A tall chap with a megaphone, turned away from the action, stoically faces his orchestra in the Front Novacastria and Nova Youth whipping them into a frenzy that will last all game.
Twelve minutes before anything happens and it’s the visitors, Brisbane Roar who work the home keeper with a routine far post save. Jets miss their talisman. Balls are played down the channel or into his deputy’s feet but nothing sticks. Roar look comfortable, at the back their captain Matt Smith looks a class above and fittingly for a team in orange, they get the ball down and try and look to work their openings rather than opting for Newcastle’s more direct approach.

However, Brisbane’s commitment to the passing game becomes their undoing, as dallying in possession, the Jets midfield starts to snap into action. Down the right, James Virgili begins to get more space and starts making things happen for his team. On the half hour, he creates a good chance that the erratic Ryan Griffiths spurns, dragging his shot wide from just outside the area. Then James Goodwin flashes one inches past Roar’s Michael Theo’s right hand post. Having laboured at the start, Jets end the half well. Griffiths misses another presentable opportunity before, in stoppage time, Smith expertly muscles the generously monikered Josh Brilliante off the ball as home fans scream in vain for a penalty.

Jets fans don’t have to wait too long. Two minutes after the break, James Brown makes ’em feel good. From another midfield tussle, Brown’s smart back heel finds Brilliante, whose cumbersome finish, reminiscent of you know who, finds the back of the net. Jets think they’ve doubled their lead again through Brilliante only for the linesman to correctly rule it out for offside.

Brisbane finally fashion a chance. Jets’ Mark Bhirighitti smothers a one on one situation. The offending Roar striker, Mitch Nichols, is regaled by the Newcastle Ultras with a version of the (much beloved by England cricket fans) Mitchell Johnson song on account of his profligacy. Bhirighitti then shows a deftness that Matt Giteau would be proud of to thwart another Roar attack. At the other end Griffiths misses again. Brown fails to get on up to head home a deserved second.

At the back for Newcastle, captain Ruben Zadkovich and Taylor Regan are called into action as Brisbane apply some late pressure. The locals love Regan and his combative style of play is your actual Aussie street fighting larrikin personified. Door duty in town somewhere undoubtedly beckons for these two granite featured individuals afterwards. Brisbane’s last roar is more of a terminal croak and they fail to make the best of three stoppage time corners. Zadkovich, for the umpteenth time holds firm. Newcastle cling on and the final whistle signals three welcome points, fifth position and with it a play off berth.
There’s not long of this season’s A-League left. They’ll need more Regan resilience, more Brown brilliance and the return of a certain centre forward if they are to challenge for honours.

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