In one of the most exciting finishes to a match at The Showgrounds in years Newry City came from two goals down with seven minutes remaining to score three goals without reply and in so doing end Tandragee Rovers 33 game unbeaten league run which had stretched back to 2013.
In a game played in incessant rain the football served up was a credit to both sides with Newrys passing flair in contrast to Tandragee’s organised defence and direct attack.
The home side had two great chances to take the lead in the opening minutes Mark Lowry put clear by Chris McMahon only to be denied by the legs of Richard McGivern in the Tandragee goal deflecting the ball wide. And from the resulting corner Sean McMullan’s volleyed effort brought another good save from the visiting keeper who then mopped up McMahons effort from the rebound.
End to end as the game was Newry relied on their keeper Peter Murphy on 15 minutes when a defensive mistake gave Cecil Corbitt a clear sight of goal bringing a smart save from Murphy low to his right. And Murphy was soon back in action this time diving low to his left to save from Mark Bicker.
McMullan was working hard to get the Newry attack going linking with David O’Connor to create an opportunity for Lowry, the winger cutting inside the box and pitching his shot for McGivern’s far post alas not setting the ball wide enough allowing the keeper to gather. With the game delicately balanced calamity struck for Newry with 30 minutes gone when a routine clearance was scuffed, the ball falling to the feet of AJ Gallagher who expertly chipped the ball back over Murphy’s head and into the empty net to open the scoring.
If the build up to Tandragee’s first goal was fortuitous there was nothing lucky about the second in the early stages of the second half. Having picked the ball up inside the Newry half Simon McClean made his way to some 30 yards from goal from where he smashed a shot which hit the top corner of Murphy’s net despite the despairing dive of the Newry keeper.
Although two goals down Newry refused to let their heads drop, McMahon leading by example showing up all over the pitch and with Tandragee content to sit on their lead Newry created a series of chances. On the hour mark Conor McCaul strode into the opposing half taking the ball to outside the penalty area before drawing the defender and slipping a pass to O’Connor on the overlap, his low cross flashing across goal just out of Lowry’s reach at the back post. McMullan was constantly showing in front of his marker, the big man showing fleet of foot to flick the ball down the line for Lowry to use his pace to outstrip the Tandragee defence. This tactic looked likely to bear fruit for Newry with Lowry, on several occasions, getting past the last defender his crosses however frustratingly refusing to fall favourably for the home side.
These chances sandwiched a real scare for the Newry goal when another mishit clearance fell to a Tandragee player who looked sure to score denied only by a saving challenge from Rian Hand who injured himself in the process.
That save however proved crucial as the game finally swung Newrys way on 83 minutes when Keith Johnston, who looks back to his best having suffered from an injury hit season renewed his partnership with his old ‘Point partner McMullan, laying a perfect pass to the striker who gave McGivern little chance with an assured finish.
As Newry piled forward for an equalizer they were almost caught out by a breakaway from Tandragee, Bicker foiled in his attempt to score by another fine diving save from Murphy.
From then on it seemed only to be a matter of whether Newry could grab an equalizer. With Rian Hands injury leading to substantial added time Newry continued to pile forward and were rewarded with 92 minutes on the clock when McMahon sliced the visiting defence with a perfect ball which Lowry used his pace to run onto and with McGivern perhaps expecting a shot across goal Lowry chose to drive his shot low and hard to the near post giving the keeper little chance to level the score.
What seemed impossible a quarter of an hour earlier happened on 96 minutes with a goal started and finished by Sean Hand. Picking the ball up in the middle of the Tandragee half Hand played the ball wide to McMullan who beat his marker before drilling in a low ball which Johnston dummied for Hand, who had followed the ball into the box, to smash it home to spark joyous scenes for the Newry followers who have had a frustrating season.
And even at this late stage the referee refused to blow his whistle until Tandragee had one more chance to push forward but it was not to be for the visitors, the referee calling for the ball with 98 minutes on the clock to signal a 3-2 win for Newry.
Rightly pleased with his team’s spirit Newry manager Darren Mullen was in upbeat form after the game “This was a tremendous win for us and not only boosts morale but shows we are more than capable of competing at the highest level in this league if we apply ourselves correctly. We could have been 2 up in the first 5 minutes but even when we went 2 down our heads never dropped and showed character throughout the team. Tandragee are a well drilled side and are rightly favourites for the league but we more than deserved our win and gives us plenty of encouragement to take into next season. We are on a decent run at the minute and the challenge for the players is to finish the season as best we can. I’ve questioned them this season at times but can’t fault them with performances like this.”
Newry City: Murphy, Crilly, O’Connor, McCaul, R Hand, Durnin, McMahon, Curran, Lowry, McMullan, S Hand Subs: Smaryginas, Edgar, Johnston, Walker, Barr.
Newry City’s next match is at home on Saturday 11th April against Fivemiletown. Kick off 2:15pm.
Photographs courtesy of Brendan Monaghan Photography.