A strong second half performance was enough to secure the points for Newry City at home to Lower Maze in Saturdays Mid Ulster league tie. Scoreless at half time due in no small way to an assured display by Newry keeper Conor Ruddy the game changed immediately after half time thanks to a bit of magic from the mercurial Sean McMullan and a smart header at the back post from Man of the Match Ian Curran after which the home side never really looked in trouble.
Newry manager Darren Mullen has been unable to field a settled team all season, indeed only four of Saturday’s team started the season opener against Lower Maze in August and for this game Mullen made four changes from the side which beat Broomhill two weeks ago. All that makes for a lack of continuity and so it was for the first half of this game with play moving at pace from end to end with plenty of goal scoring opportunities.
After some early sparring it took until the eighth minute that either side had a shot on target Lower Mazes Thomas Neill cutting inside from the right wing before hitting a rising drive which Ruddy comfortably palmed over his crossbar. The Newry response was instantaneous, Josh Durnin who again belied his tender years with a composed display in the midfield of the park, played the perfect through ball for Chris McMahon to beat the offside trap, the Newry captain alas unable to find a colleague with his cross. Neill was the liveliest of the visiting strikers and he again tested Ruddy after 15 minutes, breaking the Newry offside trap only to be foiled by the Newry keeper who was quickly off his line block Neill’s effort with his legs. Again play swung to the other end Mark Patton holding the ball up inside the Maze box before picking out Mark Lowry who pulled his shot wide of the far post with the goal gaping.
While the play in the first quarter of the game was end to end the second quarter saw two distinct periods of pressure for both teams. First up were Lower Maze, Newry relying on Curran, Niall Crilly and McMahon to quell successive attacks before they troubled Ruddys goal. Having weathered this ten minute spell Newry gradually got to grips with the game with McMahon, Patton and Durnin getting on top in midfield. The home side almost opened the scoring just before the break. Conor McCaul picked the ball up in his central defensive position and strode up field, skipping around Mazes tackles before laying the ball to the feet of McMullan inside the box, the big man twisting one way and then the other to make room for a shot which brought a fine reaction save from David O’Neill in the Lower Maze goal leaving the game scoreless at half time.
Newry carried this period of superiority with them into the second half and converted it onto the score sheet a minute after the restart. Bright as ever McMullan showed short for a corner from the Newry right. Immediately confronted by a covering defender McMullan tricked his way past the Lower Maze man before picking out Curran at the back post, a chance the defender was not going to miss for his 6th goal of the season. Not content with that Curran almost doubled Newrys advantage minutes later when he controlled a clearance on the half way line before making inroads into the Lower Maze half before hitting a perfectly hit shot from some 35 yards out which looked destined for the top corner of the net only for O’Neill to produce an excellent save.
Although Newry continued to dominate Lower Maze did have their own chances Neill yet again bringing the best out of Ruddy who was once more quickly off his line to block, this followed by an even better chance when the Maze talisman Neill met a cross at the back post with a low volley which was cleared off the Newry line by the covering Conor McCaul.
However Newry stepped up a gear controlling the rest of the game. McMullan was giving the Lower Maze defence all sorts of problems. On 70 minutes McMullan’s perfectly timed run behind the Lower Maze defence was met with a chipped pass from Paulis Smyrgyanos, McMullan controlling and shooting in the same movement, O’Neill once more producing a smart save low at his near post. On 75 minutes McMullan turned provider, taking the Lower Maze defence out of the game with a ball over the top which Mark Lowry ran onto but was unable to get his shot away as the away defence recovered. Lowry however made almost immediate amends. McMahon held possession midway inside Lower Maze half until Lowry made his run, McMahons incisive pass giving Lowry a run on goal, the striker this time shooting early smashing his shot with the outside of his right into the top right hand corner of the Lower Maze net. And gloss was added to the win late in the game when Crilly gained possession in his own half, skipped up field, played a give and go with McMullan who chipped the ball over the defence back into his path and whilst the defender was unfortunate that his attempt to lob over the keeper hit the crossbar he remained alert to latch onto the loose ball and finish it to the net to round off the scoring.
Speaking after the game, Newry manager Darren Mullen was content with collecting all three points “It was a good win against a physical and well organised side although there’s still plenty to improve on. The intensity and quality of our play in the first half wasn’t good enough. The players were told to move the ball quicker in the right areas and thankfully we got our rewards early in the second half. Once the first goal went in they had to push forward a bit more and that gave us the room to exploit. The fact we still have so many players missing was also pleasing and considering that the average age of our team was only 23 it gives us something to build on. Young Conor Ruddy has kept two clean sheets in two games and at 18 looks a good prospect. Josh Durnin came back into the team and looked immediately at ease. With Josh Cargin also making his debut from the bench these two 17 year olds are a good indication of what we are trying to do at the club. Hopefully we can build on recent results and finish the season in the right manner.”
Newry now welcome St.Mary’s to the Showgrounds on Saturday 31st Jan. KO 3pm.
Newry City AFC: Conor Ruddy, Niall Crilly, Conor McCaul, IanCurran, Josh Durnin, Chris McMahon, Mark Patton, Sean Hand, Sean McMullan, Joe Campbell, Mark Lowry. Subs: Josh Cargin, Jimmy Walker, Rian Hand, Paulius Smyrgyanos, Paddy Mooney.