“I thought it was going to be one of those days” was how Newry manager Darren Mullen summed up his teams Irish Cup 1st round match in Strabane on Saturday. Having twice hit the woodwork before going a goal down just after the half hour mark and then spurning a series of good chances most present would have agreed with his assessment but that was not allowing for Newry’s battling qualities and Mark Patton’s equalizing goal in the 87th minute after which there was only going to be one team progressing into the next round from this tie.
For the first half hour the game was fairly even with chances coming and going and both ends. After only five minutes Newry keeper Peter Murphy was forced to dive low to his right to make a fine save from a Jason McGrinder effort from inside the penalty area. Newry’s response was immediate, Chrissy Fay making space wide on the left wing and swinging in a cross which the Strabane keeper flapped at, the loose ball falling to Sean McMullan who with a wall of players in front of him lobbed the ball over the keeper only for a covering defender to head the ball up and off the underside of the crossbar and bounce to safety. McMullan was soon to have another chance. Fay fed the over lapping Lowry who cut inside the box and pulled his pass back to McMullan on the penalty spot, the big man twisting and turning but unable to get a clear shot on goal.
On 20 minutes Murphy came to Newrys rescue once more when a sloppy pass out of defence was seized upon by Strabane who worked the ball into the Newry box, Murphy diving full length to save a goal bound shot. With play now end to end the next chance was Newry’s. Embarking on a mazy run Lowry was tripped in a central position some 25 yards from goal. Up stepped McMullan to whip the free kick up and over the wall only to see his shot smack off the crossbar. Newry continued to press with Aaron Brilly breaking down the right wing before playing a cross field pass which found Lowry on the edge of the box, Lowry’s shot well saved by the home keeper.
Newrys hopes of a cup run were dealt a blow on 35 minutes when Strabanes McGrinder made his way inside the box and fired in a low and hard shot which beat Murphy’s dive, smacked the post and rebounded into the prostrate Newry keeper ricocheting into the opposite corner of the net to put the home team into the lead.
A goal down at half time Newry had a great chance to equalize straight after the restart. Niall Crilly aimed a long throw in to McMullan inside the box. Spotting the run of Patton cleverly McMullan stepped over the ball which fell into his partner’s path, Patton unfortunately unable to get enough force into his shot to beat the keeper. Newry kept making chances. Ryan Quinn who was having a major influence on the game having been introduced into the centre of midfield played a through ball to McMullan. Again McMullan twisted one way and then another to find room to shoot before attempting to curl the ball into the far corner, his shot once more finding the home keeper. And when a Fay cross from the left wing found an unmarked Lowry in space on the edge of the six yard box and the man who has been in such good form hit his shot off the top of the crossbar the omens were really bleak for a Newry cup run. However that was all to change with minutes left Patton battling for a long ball in the Strabane box, the big man using his physical presence to turn his marker and then plant the ball into the roof of the Strabane net to bring the tie to extra time.
Full of energy and buoyed by the late equalizer Newry completely dominated the extra period. As early as the 2nd minute Lowry went on a mazy run and from the corner of the box curled a left foot shot towards the far top corner and with the home keeper stranded the ball hit the Strabane woodwork for the 3rd time. This was only delaying the inevitable as minutes later Crilly and Lowry wove a pattern of passes down the flank before finding Keith Johnston who sped away from his marker and slipped a clinical finish past the Strabane custodian to put Newry in front. Newry had a chance to give themselves some breathing space soon after with Lowry once more weaving his way around defenders only to be chopped down inside the box, the referee with no option but to award a penalty kick. With the large travelling support holding its breath up stepped McMullan. Unfortunately the Strabane keeper got the better of the battle diving to his left to smother the spot kick. Again the let off was temporary. For this game Newry had an embarrassment of strength on the bench one of whom was captain Chris McMahon who was returning from injury. Normally a midfield dynamo McMahon was introduced in the first half at left back due to an injury to Conor McCaul. Whilst he did not look out of place defending McMahons two most important contributions were to be direct long balls which lead to goals.
With the first period of extra time running out McMahon hit a long pass over the top of the Strabane defence for speed merchant Johnston who had also been introduced from the bench. Although not winning the first ball Johnston battled back to secure possession. With Fay providing a decoy on the overlap Johnston ran direct at the Strabane rearguard taking the ball almost to the end line before firing in a low cross which was met by Lowry darting across the face of the goal to deflect the cross into the net with the deftest of touches. The second period of extra time was a keep ball exercise for Newry illuminated by another spot by McMahon seeing Lowry isolated on the half way line and playing perfect long pass which the Newry speedster ran on to before lobbing the ball over the advancing keeper to add some gloss on the score line.
Newry manager Darren Mullen was obviously delighted with his team’s perseverance “We knew that Strabane were a good side and I would say that they deservedly took the lead as we started slowly. However after they scored we were the better team for the remainder of the game and had many chances to score. I thought it was going to be one of those days but after Mark scored I had no doubt that we were going to win. The pace of Keith Johnston and Mark Lowry caused them problems and it ended up a very good win for us. It has taken us a while to get going and while we are not going to get carried away we are starting to look like a proper team”
Newry City AFC: Murphy, Crilly, McCaul, Curran, Donegan, Patton, Fay, Brilly, McMullan, Edgar, Lowry. Subs: McMahon, Quinn, Johnston, Barr, Campbell, Martin, Davison.