Newcastle Jets shared the points with Sydney FC after a last-minute penalty from striker Ryan Griffiths
|By MARK HUGHES
An 89th-minute penalty to Newcastle Jets striker Ryan Griffiths has rescued a valuable 2-2 draw with Sydney FC in a tense battle at a water-logged Hunter Stadium on Saturday evening.
Sydney took an early lead via marquee man Alessandro Del Piero before the Jets levelled through a Griffiths penalty to see the teams locked 1-1 at half-time.
The Sky Blues regained the lead through Blake Powell just before the hour mark and the visitors looked like going on with it before the Jets mounted a late fightback with Griffiths slotting his second from the spot after Sydney skipper Terry McFlynn handled the ball on the goal-line.
The point keeps the Jets in the top six while Sydney stay in touch drawing level with Brisbane and the Melbourne Heart with the rest of the round to play.
The match started in torrid conditions with strong wind and rain and home side had the better of the opening but it was Sydney FC who was first on the board in the just the 11th minute courtesy of Del Piero.
McFlynn pounced on an errant back pass by Jets defender Connor Champan and pushed a pass to the unmarked Italian who swivelled and put the ball neatly inside the far post from 15 metres out.
Sydney's joy was short lived though as the Jets restored parity just four minutes later from the penalty spot.
Griffiths got into space on the right flank and steamed into the box where he was clattered into by Sydney defender Rhyan Grant.
Griffiths stepped up to the mark and slotted the ball calmly into the corner despite some attempts to put him off from older brother Adam, which earned the Sky Blues defender a yellow card.
The home side looked more likely and went close on the half-hour mark when Griffiths was put through by a deft pass from Heskey. He took the ball into the area before squaring a pass for Craig Goodwin who was unmarked in front of goal but couldn't get his foot to the ball.
Sydney had a great chance to regain the lead a few minutes later when Del Piero attacked on the counter racing into the Jets half before switching the play with a pin-point long pass for Terry Antonis.
The youngster took the ball inside the area and fired a vicious shot that was parried away by Jets goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and the sides went to the half-time break locked at 1-1.
Sydney threatened early in the second half when an Ali Abbas header forced another diving save from Birighitti before Sydney hit the front through Powell.
Del Piero was gifted the ball by a lazy back pass from Ruben Zadkovich and he took the ball deep into Jets territory before sliding a pass out to Abbas who launched a left-footed shot from just inside the area.
Birighitti did well to parry the ball away but it went straight to the feet of Powell who slotted home from six yards out to put his side in front after 57 minutes.
Sydney came home the stronger with Del Piero creating havoc in the midfield and creating chances for Antonis and Sebastian Ryall but the visitors just couldn't convert.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond brought on Michael Bridges, Zenon Caravella and James Virgili and the changes spurred Newcastle into a fightback and they were rewarded on the stroke of full-time.
Emile Heskey headed a Goodwin cross down to Griffiths who fired toward goal only to see it cleared off the line by a deliberate hand-ball from McFlynn. Referee Jarred Gillet had no alternative but to award the penalty and send the Sky Blues skipper from the field.
Griffiths stepped up and slotted an almost identical penalty to his earlier shot pushing it into the bottom right corner.
The home side almost snatched the win when Virgili crossed to Heskey who pushed his rushed volley over the bar as the sides had to settle for a share of the points.