Newry City AFC Reserves brought the first trophy back to The Showgrounds since the club was reformed with a hard earned victory over Banbridge Rangers Reserves in the Wilmor Johnston Cup Final on Friday night. Played in front of a big crowd of supporters at Holm Park, Armagh, this was truly a night to remember for manager Gary Redpath and his young Newry team who went a goal down with less than two minutes gone but fought valiantly for the next 110 minutes with their superior fitness a major contributor at the final whistle.
With a large travelling support cheering them on Banbridge Rangers got the best possible start with barely two minutes gone when Ryan Weir was fouled yards outside the box and Andy Mallen took advantage of some sloppy wall building by Newry as he smashed his free kick straight at the Newry goal, the ball swerving in the air as it sailed past the defenceless Gary Murphy in the Newry nets to put Rangers 1~0 up. Both teams forced a series of corners none of which threatened goals until the 20th minute when Joe Campbell broke down the Banbridge right wing, his cross blocked into the side netting by Rangers defender Kyle Sergeant. When Banbridge could only clear Shane Lundy’s corner to the penalty spot Newry captain Stephan Martin was the first to react but was unable to get his shot on target. Newrys centre forward Andrew McLarty was a constant thorn in the Rangers side. On 30 minutes he effortlessly trapped a high kick out from Murphy before spinning and running at the Rangers defence forcing a foul wide on the right. Lundy lined up the free kick as if to cross but spotted defender Sean Mooney racing upfield unmarked. Quick thinking Lundy slid the ball to the Newry defender who connected well but pulled his shot wide of the far post. Both teams had another chance each to score before half time. First Mallen who was seeing lots of the ball for Rangers drove a fierce free kick across the Newry goal, the ball just beating the Newry cross bar to safety and then McLarty had a chance for Newry picking the ball up some forty yards from goal and shooting from distance, the ball bouncing off the chest of Johnathon Parkes in the Banbridge net but not rebounding out far enough for the following in Campbell to collect and so the half ended with that solitary goal the difference between the teams.
Newry introduced Mark Lowry at the start of the second half and the live wire striker made an immediate impact winning the ball in the middle of the park before finding Campbell wide on the right. Campbell cut in from the wing level with the penalty area and lobbed a delightful chipped pass into the path of Graeme Edgar arriving into the box, the ball bouncing just out of Edgars reach and into the grateful hands of Parkes. Lowry soon had a chance himself. Mooney took the ball out of the Newry half and a slipped a straight ball through a gap in the Rangers defence giving Lowry a race for the ball with the advancing keeper which Parkes won blasting his clearance out of the pitch. Play was now end to end with both sides threatening. Matty McKnight had a great chance to double the Rangers lead when he skipped round the last Newry defender only to be denied by a brave save from Murphy with Newry then going close with their next possession, Cian Feehan skinning his defender but unable to pull his cross back far enough for his team mates to latch onto.
Newrys experienced duo of Joel Annett and Man of the Match, Graeme Edgar were now the major influence in the game, Edgars constant running and tackling a source of inspiration to his team mates, whilst Annett’s reading of the game and solid tackling limiting the Banbridge threat mostly to long range efforts. And where Mallen had been given too much room in the first half the Rangers playmaker was not afforded the same liberty in the second period further limiting the Banbridge threat. On 67 minutes Newry came close to levelling when Mooney fed Lowry wide on the right, Lowry outpacing the Rangers full back taking the ball to the by line before pulling his cross back to the six yard box from where McLarty was unfortunate to see his first time shot crash off the base of the post. Banbridge also had a chance to score on 80 minutes, Newry rescued by a sliding block from Micheál Hastewell when it looked as if the Rangers attacker was about to poke the ball home from close range. At this stage Newry youngster Josh Durnin began to exert an influence on the game, finding space inside the Rangers half and threatening with every possession. Banbridge, however, had a great chance to wrap the game up with a minute left when Jordan McCracken broke free from the half way line and with most of the Newry defence in attacking positions he was left with only Murphy to beat, the Newry keeper displaying heroic bravery spreading himself to block McCrackens effort with his legs. Murphys bravery was rewarded moments later at the other end of the field. With all hands in attack Joel Annett took himself forward and won a free kick on the corner of the Rangers box. Lundy swung the free kick in and watched as Parkes diverted the ball for a corner. With time almost up the corner bounced around the Banbridge box before falling to the feet of Lundy who lashed it to the net to level the scores on ninety minutes.
With superior fitness now showing Newry held the upper hand in extra time. On five minutes Chris Hughes and Lundy combined well down the Newry left before Lundy squared the ball to McLarty who’s side foot shot on the run flashed wide. Rangers also threatened with Matthew McCrum unlucky to see his headed effort cleared of the line by Annett. Durnin was seeing lots of the ball and given possession from a long ball he did well to hold off several Rangers defenders and bide time to allow Lowry to catch up with play before playing him in with a diagonal ball which Parkes just got to first to deny Lowry a goal scoring chance. Newry went close to scoring with what looked likely to be the last chance of extra time when, from a near post corner McLarty hooked a shot over his head from the narrowest of angles, the ball missing the back post by inches. However that was not allowing for an amazing last minute when Joe Campbell lobbed a long ball into the centre of the Banbridge defence who showed some hesitancy clearing allowing the ever alert Lowry to nip in between the centre half and keeper to prod the bouncing ball into the Rangers net with virtually the last kick of the ball, the referees final whistle greeted with tumultuous joy in the Newry camp.
Man of the Match: Graeme Edgar
Newry City Reserves : Murphy, Hastewell, Mooney, Annett, Martin(C), Hodgett, Feehan, Edgar, J Campbell, McLarty, Lundy. Subs: Lowry, Courtney, F Campbell, Durnin, Hughes, King, Mullholland.