What on paper looked like a tricky away draw against Amateur League side Ardstraw turned out to be a routine victory for Newry City in the 1st round of this seasons Irish Cup. While post match Newry manager Darren Mullen was full of praise for his midfield trio Newry were best all over the pitch with goal keeper Peter Murphy not called into action until the minute of the game when it appeared he was fouled as he came to collect a high cross, the referee refusing to accept the Newry keepers plea as he allowed the resulting goal to stand. However that was a mere consolation as the tie had long since been settled by a brace of goals from Sean McMullan and Jimmy Walker and a single strike from Keith Johnson securing a 5-1 win for Newry.
Although Newry dominated the ball clear chances in the first half hour were few and far between. Those that did come were created by the experienced Stephen McCabe who was giving the Ardstraw right back a torrid time. When McCabe pulled up with a strain on 25 minutes Ardstraw would have been relieved to see him go off. However Newry have added quality to the squad and it was McCabe’s replacement Timmy Grant who had an immediate impact creating the opening goal. A like for like replacement, Grant skinned the home defender for pace before cutting inside and crossing to Johnson inside the box. With his back to goal Johnson laid the ball to the edge of the area where it was met first time by Walker who smashed a shot past Kerr in the home goal before the keeper had a chance to move.
While Newry were completely dominant they did have a shaky few minutes just before half time when they were almost caught by long balls out of the Ardstraw defence. First to the rescue was Chris McMahon, deployed unusually at right back, the Newry captain using his pace to get back to get a vital block on McKelvey as he bore down on Murphy’s goal. And Newry were even more fortunate a minute later, another long clearance causing hesitancy in the Newry defence, the ball arriving at the feet of the Ardstraw centre forward Matthews who screwed his shot on an open goal wide of the post.
That was as good as it got for the home side as Newry doubled their advantage right on half time. Ably backed up by his midfield colleagues Thomas McCann and Decky Carville who both had excellent games, Walker was at his mercurial best which obviously hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Ardstraw defence who chopped the Newry ball player down outside the home box. Dusting himself down to take the free kick Walker was on the same wave length as McMullan and with most expecting a shot Walker played a straight ball into the penalty area perfectly into the path of Newry’s top scorer McMullan who stretched to hook his shot into the bottom corner of the Ardstraw net to put Newry a second goal clear at half time.
The pattern of play didn’t change much in the second period but what did change was Newrys finishing, three examples of clinical goal scoring before the hour mark settling the tie.
Goals three and four were both started by the Newry full backs. First McMahon rose higher than the Ardstraw attacker to power a header to the halfway line. There it was picked up by McMullan who instinctively knocked the ball into space for Johnson to run onto. The winger made ground until he was level with the box before returning the ball to McMullan who in turn slipped a short pass to Walker. From here it was all about the skill of Walker as he dinked a shot from the edge of the box with the outside of his right boot, the ball clipping the underside of the crossbar as it hit the top corner of the Ardstraw net.
Next it was Conor Sloan’s turn to set up a goal. Picking the ball up at left back Sloan drilled a low pass forward which Grant allowed to go between his legs and run perfectly into the path of Carville. In full flow Carville switched on the turbo to power past the Ardstraw defence taking the ball to the end line before laying a perfect ball along the goal mouth for Johnson to slide in at the back post to hit home goal number four.
And strangely for Newry it was it was another long ball this time from goal keeper Murphy which led to their final goal. And strangely it was the winger Grant who challenged for Murphy’s kick out in the centre forward position, winning the aerial contest and nodding the ball down to the inrushing McMullan. Taking the ball in his stride McMullan glided past the home defence before drawing the home keeper and slipping the ball past Kerr and into the far corner of the net for goal number five which ended the Newry scoring on the hour mark.
With the game now sealed Newry took their foot off the attacking pedal but rarely allowed Ardstraw possession apart from that final minute goal which after the game Newry manager Mullen said annoyed his players so much “It shows the mentality of the squad this season that they were most annoyed at the final whistle to have conceded that goal. This was a game that had the potential to be a lot more difficult but our work rate from the first minute helped make sure we ran out easy winners. All 14 players played their part but I thought our midfield was excellent both with and without the ball. The new signings have lifted the whole squad with Sean McMullan now thriving on greater quality service. Hopefully we can improve on the last two years in the Irish Cup and get to the fifth round but at this stage we can only look as far as round two. It’s frustrating now not having a competitive game for two weeks but we will use that period to keep our fitness levels up along with a friendly in Oriel Park against a Dundalk eleven on Thursday”
NCAFC Man of the Match: Jimmy Walker
Newry City: Murphy, McMahon, Sloan, Mullen, Curran, Carville, McCann, Walker, McCabe, McMullan, Johnson. Subs: Crilly, Smaryginas, Grant, Edgar, Mooney.
Ardstraw: Kerr, Boyd, Fair, Gourley, Warnock, Boyle, Boyd, Burke, Matthews, McKelvey, Mitchell. Subs: Fusco, Long, Simpson.