Western United fell to a 1-1 draw against Newcastle Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium on Wednesday night.
Academy product Adisu Bayew opened the scoring for United inside the opening half hour after being teed up by Neil Kilkenny for his second goal in senior football.
Newcastle responded in the second half, though, and Jordan Elsey headed home a corner soon after the restart to level the game and United couldn’t get back into the match as Jamie Young was required to ensure the visitors took home a point.
The draw sees Western United stay in third place on the table heading into the final game of the campaign, level on points with Melbourne Victory and one point behind Melbourne City.
Steven Lustica was the sole omission from the side that lost to Central Coast Mariners after he suffered a calf injury in the early minutes of that game, one that will keep him out for the next three to four weeks. Bayew was his replacement.
Lachie Wales moved centrally in the line-up and made his 50th appearance for Western United while Connor Pain remained on the left-hand side for his 200th game in the A-League Men.
It was a relatively cagey start from both sides, with Western United looking to be solid defensively and patient in possession while Newcastle found their footing with a heavily rotated squad.
United was able to have the better of the forward play, though, and Bayew was lively in his first start since the trip to Brisbane where he notched his first senior goal.
The youngster very nearly doubled his career tally within the opening 20 minutes when the ball broke to him on the edge of the box, but his powerful shot flew straight into Mario Arques and out for one of a number of early corners that United earned.
There was eventually a goal for United’s No.31 though as he opened the scoring in the 27th minute. While it was only the second goal of his career, it might well be the easiest he will ever score as Neil Kilkenny put him on a plate to tap home into an empty net.
United looked to remain on the front foot but Newcastle nearly equalised before half-time in spectacular fashion when Sam Silvera let rip from beyond halfway.
Silvera’s goal bound effort was clawed away by Young right before it nestled in the top corner of the net – the last ditch save seeing Young collide with the post and require medical treatment before continuing on.
United recovered from that scare to create a number of big chances in the final moments of the half. Kilkenny and Pain both had efforts acrobatically tipped over the crossbar by Michael Weier before Bayew failed to direct a header on target as the visitors failed to double the lead.
United started the second half slowly and was punished in the 52nd minute when Jordan Elsey leapt unmarked at the back post to head home from a corner.
The visitors struggled to work the intensity back into the game and the Jets were threatening on the counter-attack, with Beka Mikeltadze smashing a left-footed shot into the base of the post on the hour mark.
Aloisi’s men did have some joy down the left-hand side at times but the delivery into the box was just lacking the cutting edge to carve out any meaningful chances to take the lead.
Again it was Newcastle that came closest to adding a third goal in the game in the 68th minute. United failed to clear a corner and allowed Lucas Mauragis a shot in the box, which Young did superbly to save at his near post.
Soon after that Silvera struck the post on the other side of the goal with a crisp volley as the home side continued to push for a winner.
Ben Garuccio nearly brought about winner when he swung his weak foot at a bouncing ball on the edge of the area, with the shot taking a considerable deflection and bouncing agonisingly wide of the goal for Western United.
United threw men forward in the final moments but still couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net, ultimately having to settle for a point.
What John Aloisi said post-match
“Overall the performance was very, very good. Disappointed that we didn’t get the three points, but we’ll keep fighting till the end. If we’ve still got an opportunity on Sunday (to win the Premier’s Plate) then we have, but we want to go into Finals in this sort of form. It was a very good away performance that’s for sure.”
“I don’t want them (the players) to be angry, I want them to be proud of first of all, what we’ve achieved so far in putting ourselves at least in this position, and also the performance from tonight. There’s still a lot of football to be played, whether we’re fighting for the Premiers Plate next week or not, that’s out of our hands now, but if we are we’ll give it everything and if not, we at least go into finals knowing we can go anywhere – whether that’s home in Melbourne or away – and still put in a performance and get results.”