Jets end 16-year wait for finals win in extra-time thriller as star adds to staggering record

Newcastle Jets have won a Liberty A-League Final for the very first time in club history, having eclipsed Western United in a thrilling 4-2 extra-time Elimination Final triumph on Saturday night.

The Jets travelled to the Regional Football Facility in Tarneit eager to end the club’s 16-year wait for a Finals win and after taking the lead twice through 90 minutes, were forced to win it in 30 minutes of additional extra time.

Sarina Bolden scored a first-half brace for the Jets but Alana Cerne and Catherine Zimmerman struck for Western on either side of half time as the home side refused to say die.

But extra time belonged to the Jets; Melina Ayres came off the bench to score her ninth Finals goal and give Newcastle the lead for the third time in the game – an advantage that Sophie Hoban doubled with her first ever Liberty A-League goal as the Jets ran out 4-2 winners against third-place finishers Western.

The Jets are now through to a two-legged Semi-Final against Premiers Melbourne City; Newcastle will host the first game in the tie (April 19-21) before travelling to Melbourne for the return leg (April 26-28), with a spot in the Grand Final (May 4) on the line.

Second-place finishers Sydney FC will play either Melbourne Victory or Central Coast Mariners in the other Semi; Victory and the Mariners face off in the second Elimination Final at the Home of the Matildas on Sunday, April 14.

Ayres’ extra-time strike enhanced the 25-year-old’s incredible Finals record. Through stints at Melbourne City, Victory and now the Jets, Ayres has scored 36 Liberty A-League goals, and nine of those have come in finals – an astonishing 25% of her goals tally.

Those nine goals include two Finals hat-tricks (both at Victory).

“What a record!” Said Paramount+ commentator Teo Pellizzeri.

“It is an extraordinary scoring record for Melina Ayres. Six this season, 36 (for her) career, nine in finals. Two hat-tricks and three other (Finals) games with a single goal.”

Bolden set the tone for a breathless first half with the opening goal in the 11th minute; the Philippines international went one-on-one with Cerne, shifted the ball to the right and buried her strike from distance into the bottom-right corner.

Newcastle’s lead lasted just over 10 minutes as Western’s inaugural signing Alana Cerne brought the home side back on level terms.

Tyla-Jay Vlajnic supplied the assist from a corner swung to the back post where Cerne stood in wait to volley first-time past Jets keeper Tiahna Robertson and make it 1-1 in Tarneit.

There was a moment of controversy in the 39th minute when Zimmerman thought she had fired Western into a 2-1 lead; the American striker won possession off Jets defender Josie Wilson and buried the ball into the back of the net but as play got set to resume, referee Georgia Ghirardello blew her whistle for a foul in the build-up from Zimmerman.

Ghirardello adjudged Zimmerman had pulled Wilson’s shirt before she stole possession off the Jets defender and scored.

Western thought they had a 2-1 lead but the no-goal decision allowed the Jets to sting the home side late in the half when a handball in the box from captain Jaclyn Sawicki led to a penalty to Newcastle, buried into the back of the net by Bolden.

The all-action first half came to an end with the Jets, not Western, leading by two goals to one.

Just nine minutes into the second half, play was halted by an electricity blackout in Tarneit; Western were on the attack when the Regional Football Facility was plunged into darkness and a lengthy delay ensued.

After more than 20 minutes, the pitch was once again bathed in light and the action resumed with a drop ball allowing Western to regain possession on the edge of the penalty area.

The restart led to a barrage of attacking play from Western and in the 68th minute, the hosts drew level at 2-2 from the penalty spot.

Zimmerman was brought to ground in the box by Jets midfielder Libby Copus-Brown and Ghirardello’s decision to award the penalty led to a perfectly-dispatched spot kick from Zimmerman which left Robertson no chance of a save and, for the second time in the game, drew the hosts back level.

Western continued to fire at will towards Newcastle’s goal and if not for an acrobatic save from Robertson, they would have taken the lead.

Sawicki unleashed from distance but Robertson leapt to her right to tip the ball away from the top-left corner.

In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Jets substitute and in-form Striker Melina Ayres was presented with a chance to break Western hearts when a deflected cross drifted into her path at the back post.

Alyssa Dall’Oste was scrambling in goal for the hosts but fortunately for the Western keeper, Ayres couldn’t squeeze the ball home as the final whistle confirmed 30 minutes of additional time in Tarneit.

Zimmerman had a glorious chance to put Western ahead in the first half of extra time. Grace Maher provided the delivery and Zimmerman was all alone in the box but her first-time volley skewed off her boot and out for a goal kick.

Ayres had threatened late in regular time and it was the in-form substitute – who came into the finals with four goals scored in her last two games – was the perpetrator of more pain for Western in the first half of extra time.

Ayres latched onto an inviting through ball played over Western’s defensive line by MelindaJ Barbieri and blasted Newcastle back into the lead with the ninth Liberty A-League Finals goal of her career.

Deep into the second half of extra time, the Jets pulled clear and it was Hoban, set up by Ayres, who bagged her first Liberty A-League goal to send Newcastle to the Semi-Finals.