A match which started off so well but ended with another three points dropped away from home will be how Newry City look back at Saturdays defeat at Banbridge Rangers. Newry manager Darren Mullen can take some positives from a game which his side dominated for the first half hour, albeit aided by the elements, and had they converted another of the chances made then the result might have been different. That however has been the story of Newrys season thus far and they were punished by a Banbridge side who managed to score against the strong wind which set them up for a second half during which the wind and rain if anything got worse, Rangers determination helping them to see out a 3-1 win.
Although Adam Beattie had the first attempt on goal of the day for Rangers after three minutes it was Newry who played all the early football and they could have gone ahead moments later when Chris McMahon picked out centre forward Mark Patton who nodded the ball down into the path of Sean Hand, the Dundalk man unable to get enough into his shot to test Chris Davison in the Rangers goal. With the wind at their back it was sustained Newry pressure McMahon again setting up the next scoring chance, this time for Jimmy Walker who with his back to goal swivelled on the spot only to see his half volley sail over Davison’s crossbar.
The pressure was building with Barr the next to test Davison having benefited from another Patton lay off. The opening goal duly arrived after 18 minutes when referee Gerry Murray who had another good afternoons officiating, awarded Newry a free on the edge of the box after Barr was taken down. From a central position it was Walker who stepped up to curl the free kick to the top corner of the Banbridge net despite Davison’s best efforts.
One goal was never going to be enough and Newry threatened again on 25 minutes when David O’Connor pushed forward into the Banbridge half before releasing debutant Dean McConnell on the Newry’s left, the winger stepping inside before firing in a low show which narrowly missed the base of the Banbridge post with Davison beaten. With Newry growing increasingly frustrated Rangers grabbed that elusive goal against the elements after 37 minutes. Faced with a long throw in from the left wing Newry could have been forgiven that the danger had passed when Peter Murphy produced an excellent reflex save to push Jonathan O’Neills powerful header around his post. With the resulting corner cleared out of the box the Newry players attempted to push out of defence alas allowing O’Neill to ghost in at the back post to connect with a curling cross this time giving Murphy no chance with his header to level the scores at half time.
The second half was a story of chances missed and chances taken. Like the first half rangers had the first opportunity to score Andy Mallen slipping a through ball for Johnny Porter who squared up with Murphy, the Newry keeper coming out on top to keep the sides level. Newry hit back, the ball bobbling around the box before looking to have landed on Pattons lap, the big man denied by Gregg who cleared with the striker in the act of shooting. Newry had the bit between their teeth at this stage looked sure to score on the hour mark when a corner was recycled into the Banbridge box to Barr who connected perfectly only to see his effort blocked by some resolute Rangers defending.
Defensive bravery was rewarded on 70 minutes when a long ball into the Newry box was only partially cleared to Adam Beattie who crashed the ball into the Newry net to put Banbridge a goal up. And minutes later the Mallens combined with Stuart looking sure to score only to be denied by some excellent covering defending by Niall Crilly who headed the ball from the Newry goal line. Buoyed by this reprieve Newry mounted some sustained pressure on the Rangers goal, Crilly moving forward to create two opportunities both of which went begging. The first came on 75 minutes when he crossed from the right wing to Barr who had his shot blocked, Crilly then repeated the move minutes later firing in a low ball which beat everyone to go harmlessly wide.
And as so often happened for Newry this season they were made to pay for these misses when Banbridge attacked with ten minutes left, a crossed ball fell perfectly for Stuart Mallen who blasted an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the Newry net to seal the points for the home side.
Newry manager Darren Mullen was reflective after the game “There’s no doubt we are in a hole at the minute but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We aren’t having any luck in front of goal and could have been a couple up today. Basic errors are costing us dearly. Hard work is what’s need and as a group that’s what we will do. We are not nearly as bad as recent results suggest but it’s only through perseverance and belief in what we are trying to that we will come through this. If we can do that and finish the season in the right manner then as a group we will be all the better for it.”
Next up, Newry now travel to AFC Craigavon (Saturday 7th March). Newry City Travel Club will be running a bus departing from the Stonebridge from 12.45 sharp. All are welcome.
Newry City AFC Team: Murphy, Crilly, McCaul, O’Connor, Curran, Hand, McConnell, Walker, McMahon, Patton, Barr. Subs: Edgar, Johnson, McMullan, Fay.