The Hunter Ports Newcastle Jets were defeated 1-0 by Wellington Phoenix in a pre-season trial match at Rockwell Automation Park in Weston on Saturday evening.
In their first pre-season hit-out against Hyundai A-League opposition, the Jets appeared to take while to settle into the contest and match the level of intensity displayed by the Phoenix early on.
Wellington had the first clear-cut opportunity of the match after just four minutes, when Joel Stevens pounced on a wayward pass by Taylor Regan and played in off-season signing Carlos Hernandez.
However, the former Melbourne Victory man sliced his shot from a tight angle onto the post, giving the Jets an early reprieve.
There was no denying the visitors three minutes later though, when Ben Sigmund was left unmarked at the back post and powerfully nodded home a Hernandez corner kick to give Wellington a 1-0 advantage.
Newcastle went close to fashioning an instant response with Michael Bridges trying an audacious chip shot from the edge of the area that had Phoenix custodian Glen Moss beaten, only to see the ball float agonisingly over the crossbar.
Bridges was in the thick of the action again in the 13th minute, when James Virgili’s cross from the right flank deflected to the Englishman, who was waiting at the top of the penalty area.
Bridges struck a powerful first-time volley with his right boot that whistled inches past the crossbar.
The Jets did eventually have the ball in the back of the net in the 16th minute after Joey Gibbs headed home following a scramble in the box, only for the referee to disallow the goal for a foul on Moss in the lead-up.
Tempers threatened to boil over in the 18th minute after Paul Ifill collected Mark Birighitti in the face with a late challenge that saw the Phoenix player yellow-carded for the misdemeanor.
The Jets had their best opportunity to level the scores midway through the first half, when a delightful ball from Andrew Hoole put Virgili in behind the Wellington defence.
Virgili proceeded to dribble around Moss, before side-footing a shot that looked destined to find the back of the net, only for it to be desperately cleared off the line by the Wellington defence.
Showing no signs of the head knock he sustained just minutes earlier, Birighitti proved to be as alert as ever, pulling off a stunning save to keep out a Stein Huysegems shot that looked destined for the top corner in the 32nd minute.
The Jets’ only other clear sight of goal in the first half came through Ruben Zadkovich in the 44th minute.
The Jets skipper played a neat one-two with Gibbs before firing a low shot from outside the box that forced Moss to make a low save.
The Jets came out with renewed vigour at the start of the second half, with Adam Taggart playing a ball over the top to Gibbs, which forced Moss to leave his penalty area and clear the ball with his head.
Moss was called into action again in the 54th minute when half-time substitute Craig Goodwin whipped in a cross in from the left flank for Gibbs.
The former Western Sydney Wanderers striker connected with a powerful diving header, only to be denied by a sharp reflex save by Moss.
Not to be outdone by his Phoenix counterpart, Birighitti pulled off another outstanding save, tipping Hamish Watson's shot over the bar after it had deflected off Taylor Regan.
Michael Boxall botched a golden opportunity to put the visitors 2-0 up in the 66th minute when he somehow managed to shoot over a vacant goalmouth from inside the six-yard box.
The Jets continued to push hard in search of an equaliser, with the majority of their attacks coming via the right flank through Virgili.
In the 67th minute the speedy winger fired in a low cross for Gibbs, who hit his first time shot just across the face of goal whilst under pressure from the Phoenix defence.
In the ensuing 10 minute period, Virgili twice cut-in from the right flank and fired shots at goal with his non-favoured left foot. His first effort flew just past the far post, while his second strike forced Moss to make an awkward save low and to his right.
The Jets again went close to levelling the scores in the 85th minute, with Goodwin’s pinpoint cross from the left flank finding Taggart, who was unable to keep his header down and on target.
Despite the Jets’ best efforts, they were unable to find a way back into the contest and the match finished 1-0 in favour of Wellington.
Newcastle Jets 0
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Sigmund 7’)