Apostolos Stamatelopoulos' late winner helped lift the Newcastle Jets out of the A-League basement as their 2-1 triumph over Melbourne City left Melbourne Victory to collect their first ever wooden spoon.
City looked set to finish their historic first trophy-winning season in style when Stefan Colakovski fired the newly-crowned Premiers into a ninth-minute lead, but the resilient Jets fought back through 16-year-old midfielder Archie Goodwin's stunning equaliser and a last-gasp Stamatelopoulos glancing header.
Head coach Patrick Kisnorbo made two changes from City's previous game, with Andrew Nabbout and Colakovski brought in to bolster their attack in the absence of Socceroos call-up Jamie Maclaren, and the 21-year-old bagged his second A-League goal to get the table-toppers off to a flier at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Despite City controlling with their free-flowing possession approach, this match showed the first signs it would not go to script in the 23rd minute when teen sensation Goodwin levelled the scores with a thunderous 25-yard curling effort to record his first senior goal and become the second youngest goalscorer in A-League history, after Adelaide United's Mohamed Toure.
Newcastle battled valiantly to stay in the game and those efforts set the stage for substitute Stamatelopoulos, who replaced Goodwin in the 79th minute, to net his third of the season, clinching the Hunter outfit's fifth win in 26 games and ensuring Craig Deans' side finish in 11th place, avoiding the ignominious wooden spoon.
Injury worries to Rostyn Griffiths and Andrew Nabbout will present City with some concern ahead of their Semi Final a week on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Navy Blue half of Melbourne were condemned to bottom spot for their first time in their history following Victory's worst-ever haul of 21 points – two points fewer than last season's club record low tally.
With Melbourne still under lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the south Sydney suburb of Kogarah played host to the final game of the A-League regular season and City’s early dominance paid off when Scott Galloway released Adrian Luna with a lofted pass over Newcastle's high defensive line and the Uruguayan put the ball on a platter for Colakovski to tap in from close range.
Two minutes later, Andrew Nabbout snuck in behind Nikolai Topor-Stanley and almost produced a replica finish for Colakovski but the stretching striker could redirect the ball. Nabbout's pace continued to cause problems for the Jets' left side and the nine-cap Socceroo stung Jack Duncan's palms in the 14th minute, before Galloway slammed a strike over from the resulting corner.
There was concern for City when Rostyn Griffiths appeared to tweak his hamstring, and was replaced by Alec Mills as a precaution, before the Jets' Jason Hoffman also succumbed to a calf injury. That disjointed period of play was broken when rising star Goodwin collected a short pass from Lucas Mauragis and unleashed a bending effort into Tom Glover's top corner.
The dynamic Marco Tilio wriggled free in the Jets box and drilled a shot straight at Duncan in the 35th minute but City were suddenly denied the freedom they had been afforded earlier in the half, before Topor-Stanley saw a chance to give the Jets a shock lead disappear when the veteran centre-back skewed a six-yard volley off target after a Jets free-kick drifted through City's defence.
More injury worries for City emerged at half-time, with Nathaniel Atkinson introduced after Nabbout had seemingly over-stretched his hamstring. However, the Premiers quickly had the competition strugglers back under pressure as Florin Berenguer lifted a 55th-minute chance over the crossbar, although the Jets threatened from set pieces with Topor-Stanley coming close to touching in Goodwin's 68th-minute flick.
City were pushing for a winner as Tilio saw a dangerous cross evade him before 17-year-old substitute Raphael opened up the Jets defence but Ben Garuccio's shot was blocked. The decisive moment arrived when Blake Archbold earned a free-kick and Mauragis' pin-point cross was glanced in by Stamatelopoulos, before Jets gloveman Duncan made a match-winning save to deny Atkinson deep in stoppage time.
A-League 2021 Finals Series – Elimination Finals
Central Coast Mariners v Macarthur FC
Saturday, 12 June 2021
Venue: Central Coast Stadium
Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United
Sunday, 13 June 2021
Venue: Moreton Daily Stadium