Newry kicked off their Mid Ulster Intermediate A campaign with a trip to Lower Maze. The conditions were remarkably similar to the opening game of last season. Just as at Bourneview, the sun shone down on the lush turf of the tree lined pitch. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities ended as a repeat of last year’s comfortable win rarely looked on the cards against a well drilled and competitive home side.
The first half was something of a non-event from a Newry perspective as they struggled to create anything of note. The only half chance came just before the half hour mark when Jimmy Walker played a neat one two with Sean McMullan on the edge of the box, only to shoot well over the bar.
Lower Maze defended well from front to back, forcing Newry to go long earlier than ideal and thus limited City’s attacking thrust, while the hosts were dangerous themselves when they broke forward at pace. They created two decent chances inside the opening 15 minutes; one very presentable opening blazed over by a well-placed centre forward and another quick break that forced Peter Murphy to race from his goal. Murphy made half a block and when the ball broke to the Maze winger, his cross into the box was cleared by David O’Connor. Murphy made another decent block midway through the half while the home side had two penalty claims turned down, one of which might have been given after the ball struck Conor McCaul’s hand.
The half time break offered Darren Mullen and his backroom team the opportunity to remedy the situation and they brought on Kenny Kearns for Aaron Brilly as well as changing formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. The changes almost paid immediate dividends as Mark Patton played in Neil Barr, moved to a central role having played on the left in the first moiety. Barr raced clear but slotted just wide. Nonetheless, this was better and City didn’t have to wait long for a breakthrough. Establishing a greater degree of control in midfield, Kearns played McMullan in behind the home defence. Initially he didn’t look like getting there, but he reached the ball just in time to nip it past the home keeper who duly brought him down. McMullan dusted himself down and stepped up to slot the penalty and give City the lead.
Newry were now in the ascendancy but would spurn a series of opportunities to make their supremacy count. McMullan had two efforts, one shot just wide and a header saved while a cross from the same player was almost turned in to his own net by a home defender as Newry looked to turn the screw. City were a little unlucky on 63 minutes when O’Connor’s cross was headed home by Patton only for the referee to disallow the effort for an apparent infringement on the home goalkeeper.
A single goal lead is always precarious and so it proved. On 72 minutes, a Lower Maze corner wasn’t properly cleared and when the ball dropped just outside the box, the home player stroked home a sweet strike in to the bottom corner of the net. The goal rocked Newry back on their heels while giving a new lease of life to the home side. The game was much more even now but chances were hard to come by and the game appeared to be petering out as the clock ticked down. With ten minutes to go a dangerous Lower Maze break ended with a shot from their lively number 15 which was blocked before, to their credit, Newry roused themselves for one last effort which incredibly yielded four decent chances in the last five minutes. On 87 minutes, a superb McMahon ball released sub Chris Fay, but he shot wide when well placed. Then Fay turned provider with a cross to Neil Barr whose instinctive flick fell into the arms of the grateful home keeper. Newry kept coming, Walker played in Barr who shot straight at the keeper from a difficult angle before Paddy Magill and Mark Patton combined to provide a final chance which Barr clipped just wide.
After the game, manager Darren Mullen commented that, “we had a very poor first half and struggled to break them down. The intensity of our play wasn’t good enough and we kept giving the ball away. We looked a lot better in the second half when Kenny Kearns came on and we changed the formation. Once we scored we failed to take our further chances and paid the price. Although we had chances to win in it the end it was a disappointing performance but it shows the lads that this is a tough league and we are going to have to work very hard to get any rewards this season. It’s only the first game and we look forward now to 3 home games in a row.”
Plenty to ponder then for Newry. After a disappointing first half display, the side were much improved after the break but a failure to convert a host of chances meant one point instead of three. Newry now look forward to a first home game of the season, a tough one against Ballymacash Rangers on Tuesday evening, kick off at 8pm.
Newry City: Peter Murphy, David O’Connor, Paddy Magill, Paul Donegan, Conor McCaul, Chris McMahon, Aaron Brilly (Kenny Kearns), Jimmy Walker, Sean McMullan (Chris Fay), Mark Patton, Neil Barr. Subs not used: Niall Crilly, Ian Curran, Graeme Edgar.
newrycityafc.co.uk MOTM: David O’Connor