Newry City maintained their rich vein of form at The Showgrounds on Saturday with a comprehensive win over high flying Cliftonville Olympic in the first round of the Intermediate Cup. On a pitch which was in remarkably good condition given the recent weather the home side played some excellent football and scored three spectacular goals which sent the Newry crowd home happy and certainly pleased Newry manager Darren Mullen “This was a complete team performance from start to finish. We knew Cliftonville would be a fit and talented bunch of young players so we needed to be organised. Not only was our shape good but our fitness levels allow us to match teams when they have the ball. Once we win the ball back the pace and movement within the team allows us to create a lot of chances. The 3-0 score line certainly doesn’t flatter us and we should have scored a few more. What we have this season is a group of players who are willing to work for 90 minutes and if we can keep that effort going we won’t be far away.”
Newry started the brighter of the two teams, their first chance coming only minutes in when Stephen McCabe curled a tantalising cross behind the defence, the ball skimming off the wet turf alas just out the reach of the sliding Keith Johnston into the grateful clutches of Cliftonville keeper Gerard Walker. McCabe went for goal himself minutes later, latching onto a Thomas McCann pass and from the corner of the box attempting to steer his shot into the far top corner the ball refusing to curl enough to tuck inside the post. With Newry pressing high up the pitch Cliftonville were struggling to get out of their own half. This hard work by Newry created the next chance, McCann straight into the tackle as Cliftonville tried to pass the ball out of defence, the breaking ball falling to Timmy Grant who quickly fed Keith Johnston wide on the right, his low cross smothered by Walker on the edge of the six yard box.
When Clintonville’s first sight of the Newry goal arrived after 20 minutes it was a real goal scoring opportunity. Attacking down the left wing the visitors fed the ball along the edge of the Newry penalty area to Matthew Henry who was initially in space but quickly found himself closed down by Newry defenders forcing him to shoot early, Peter Murphy coming to Newrys rescue with a smart save at his near post. The visitors soon had another chance Ross Lavery rising highest to meet Tiarnan McNicholl’s corner, his header back across goal missing the far post.
All half chances at this stage it was Newrys turn next. Neil Mullen played a long high pass out of defence which Johnston controlled instantly with his first touch before rolling the ball into the path of Timmy Grant who whipped the ball across the box alas straight out the other side for a Cliftonville throw.
Newry almost threw all their good work away on the half hour mark, switching off when in safe possession of the ball inside their own half, Cliftonvilles McNicholl quickly picking up the loose ball before crossing to Mark Hillen at the back post, his header back across goal missing the far post by inches.
The home side bounced back quickly. Having won a throw in deep in the Cliftonville half Graeme Edgar’s long throw found Grant with his back to goal inside the box, his touch back giving a shooting opportunity to McCabe on the edge of the box. The opening was however short lived as McCabe’s blasted effort was instantly charged down by the Cliftonville defence.
The opening goal when it came was worth waiting on. The move started on Newrys left wing McCabe skipping past his marker and swinging in a low cross which McCann met on the penalty spot just before a Cliftonville defender who charged down the shot with a challenge which saw both players floored. Johnston was first to react to the loose ball and as is so often the case he looked for his partner Sean McMullan. With a goal scorers instinct McMullan made his run from behind the centre half, twisted in mid air and using all the pace on Johnston’s cross guided his header from the penalty spot into the top corner of the Cliftonville net to put Newry a goal up at the break.
Ten minutes after the break Newry and McMullan’s second goal was just as good. With Newry piling on the pressure Cliftonville simply couldn’t get the ball clear of their goal mouth. That said the home side couldn’t get a clear strike on goal, that was until the ball fell to McMullan just inside the penalty box. Still with loads to do the big man twice feigned to shoot as he edged his way across the box before unleashing a fierce left foot drive straight into the top corner of the Cliftonville net to double the Newry advantage.
At this stage McMullan was on fire, turning provider as he raced from the half way line to collect a Niall Crilly pass before crossing for Johnston who was most unfortunate to see his first time shot blocked by the feet of the keeper when a third goal looked odds on.
There was little respite for the visiting defence. On 65 minutes McMahon picked out Johnston’s clever run behind the Cliftonville defence with a perfect pass allowing Johnson to collect the ball in his stride, check back inside the defender and thump his low shot off the base of the Cliftonville post with Walker beaten. It continued to be attack after attack for Newry but the third goal to seal the game wouldn’t come. The pace of the Newry attackers was giving Cliftonville all sorts of trouble and on 70 minutes Johnston raced clear of his marker to collect an Edgar long pass. Faced with only Walker to beat and the keeper stranded off his line Johnson chose to shoot early rather than go around the keeper which turned out to be the wrong option, his shot from distance wide off the empty goal. Johnston was doing everything but grabbing that goal. On 75 minutes McMullan won another long pass in the air nodding the pall down to his partner on the edge of the small box. Peeling off the shoulder of his marker Johnson swivelled to shoot once more unfortunate as his effort went the wrong side of the post.
While that third goal wouldn’t come there was always the chance of Cliftonville getting back into the game and with ten minutes remaining they had successive chances to do just that. First McNicholl took the ball inside the Newry box attempting to trick his path to a shooting chance. Neill Mullen who had been rock solid in defence throughout was having none of that timing his challenge to perfection to nick the ball away. Cliftonville continued to press and Murphy was called into action to preserve the two goal advantage, Ross Lavery’s shot from outside the Newry box requiring a full length dive from the Newry keeper to push the ball around the post for a corner.
As substitutions go the introduction of Declan Carville for Newry was a good as it gets. With a throw in deep in the Cliftonville half Newry made a double substitution introducing Carville and Ian Curran and it was Carville who had an immediate impact turning his marker with his first touch and with his second curling a left foot shot from the edge of the penalty area inside the far post for an exquisite goal to round off a great victory for Newry.
Next up for Newry is an Intermediate A League match next Saturday away to Banbridge Rangers, kick off 2pm. Newry City Travel Club bus will leave the Stonebridge at 1:15pm.
Newry City AFC Team: Murphy, Crilly, Edgar, Mooney, Mullen, McMahon, McCann, Grant, McMullan, Johnston, McCabe. Subs: Curran, McCaul, Walker, Carville, Lowry, Wilson.
Cliftonville Olympic Team: Walker, Lawlon, Begley, McAllister, Doran, Donnelly, Henry, Tolan, Hillen, McNicoll, Lavery. Subs: McClory, Thompson, Gowdy.