Newry City will look back on Saturday’s divisional cup semi-final as a match in which they had more than enough chances to have booked their place in the final in the first half and yet can have no gripes with losing to two second half goals from Dungannon Tigers.
Having wrapped up the league title manager Darren Mullen fielded a full strength team for this cup game against a Tigers team who Newry had beaten twice during the league campaign, most recently very comfortably by five goals at home in early March. The early exchanges in Saturdays game did not suggest that anything other than an away victory was on the cards with Newry almost taking the lead with seven minutes gone, Niall Crilly curling a long pass into the path of Neil Barr who’s shot beat the Dungannon keeper only to be cleared on the goal line by a covering defender.
Perhaps Newry should have known that this was not to be their day as their next opportunity on 16 minutes met the same fate. Again Crilly fed Barr who held the ball up before slipping a pass to his partner Mark Patton, Patton’s shot also beating the home keeper but was again blocked on the goal line and cleared despite the best efforts of Crilly who had followed the play. Dungannon’s only scoring chance of the first half came on 17 minutes from a corner which Newry did not clear, Peter Murphy making a smart save low at his near post.
Newry went straight back on attack, Gary McVicker taking the ball from Murphy before making ground and feeding David Anderson. Anderson immediately slipped a defence splitting pass to Barr who’s shot from the edge of the box flew the wrong side of the Tigers post. Sticking with the tactics which have brought so many wins this season Newry continued to build attacking movements from the back. On 25 minutes Crilly was again central, playing a precise pass to the feet of Sean Hand on the edge of the Dungannon box. Hand held the ball up waiting on Crilly’s arrival in the area before sliding a clever pass which gave Crilly a clear sight of goal. With the option of crossing looking favourite Crilly tried to take the Tigers keeper by surprise shooting for his near post, the angle however against the Newry man his shot going wide. The final opportunity of the half came the way of Newry’s captain Chris McMahon. McVicker won the ball in a tackle and immediately found Anderson. Ever alert Anderson spotted McMahon in space on the centre spot. McMahon took the ball to about 30 yards out before shooting low bringing a fine save from the Tigers keeper leaving the match goalless at half time.
The second half started with another Newry chance, again Crilly and Barr linking up to first create a chance for Barr from the edge of the box which was charged down with Barr latching onto the rebound and setting up Anderson, his shot from the corner of the box bringing another save from the Tigers keeper. It was at this stage that the game was to change.
The first sign was a home attack on 56 minutes which brought two excellent saves from Murphy, first diving to palm away a low bouncing shot from outside the box and then reacting quickly to get up and dive at the feet of an in rushing Dungannon forward to deflect the rebound for a corner. Newry went a goal down on the hour mark. Having conceded a free kick on the edge of their own box Newry failed to clear the ball after the free kick had cannoned into the wall, the ball falling to Dungannon’s Brian Somerville who gave Murphy little chance to save with his shot from the middle of the box.
Having secured the all important lead the home side retreated into defensive mode leaving it up to Newry to score. Unfortunately they did everything but with constant pressure on the home defence who were forced to hoof the ball as far up field as possible at every opportunity as well as make some unfortunate challenges which saw the referee award a series of yellow cards and culminated in a straight red card for a horrible challenge on Mark Lowry. However, with all that attacking play Newry really only threatened to score twice in the final half hour.
On 70 minutes a Lowry cross was cleared to about 40 yards out where Conor McCaul met it on the run driving in a technically brilliant shot which never deviated from its flight path which unfortunately was straight into the chest of the keeper, had the shot been a yard either side the Dungannon goal would have undoubtedly been in danger. Newry’s luck was truly gone on 75 minutes when Patton got on the end of a flighted free kick only to see his glancing header slam into the Dungannon post and rebound to safety and Newry’s interest in the cup was effectively ended with five minutes left when a long clearance was latched onto by the solitary Tigers player up field who did well to win a free kick on the edge of the Newry box, Stephen Cusack slamming the free kick past Murphy to send Dungannon into the final.
Newry will reflect that this was a game in which they had the majority of possession and chances but will also know that missing chances leave a team vulnerable to break away goals and that was exactly what happened in this game. However, the defeat must not detract from an excellent debut season from which the objective was to secure promotion.
Newry City: Murphy, Crilly, McVicker, Annett, McElroy, Hand, McMahon, Walker, Anderson, Patton, Barr, Subs: McCaul, Lowry, McLarty, Campbell, Martin.