Newry City produced one of the come backs of the season on Saturday at Banbridge Rangers, recovering from a two goal deficit with just over 20 minutes remaining, to win by two goals securing another valuable three league points which maintains their advantage at the top of the table. Having started lethargically Newry conceded with only four minutes on the clock, were 3-1 down at half time and whilst the travelling support would have known that their side were more than capable of a comeback it did look as if time was running out during the 2nd half. The catalyst came on the 68th minute when Newry’s top scorer Sean McMullan won an aerial battle at the back post to power a header past Rangers keeper Matthew Freeman to give Newry the impetus they needed to secure the victory.
On a blustery rain swept pitch Newry got an early warning when after only two minutes Stephen Taggart’s lobbed shot forced Peter Murphy to back paddle to tip the ball over the bar with his finger tips. Minutes later there was little Murphy could do about the opening goal, Colin Cunningham stealing in at the back post to meet Andy Mallens curling free kick with a precise volley which went in off the underside of Murphy’s crossbar.
Newrys reply was swift. Neil Mullen picked out Stephen McCabe on the left wing with a cross field ball. McCabe tricked his way to the end line making space for a low cross which Decky Carville met with a perfectly timed run turning the ball into the Banbridge net from close range.
Having responded so well many would have expected the league leaders to build on this goal. That however did not happen as Banbridge took control for the rest of the half racing into a 3-1 lead by half time.
Goal number two for Rangers came after 21 minutes when a long high ball into the Newry box was partially cleared to the edge of the penalty area where Matthew McKnight was the first to the loose ball, guiding his low shot inside the post despite the despairing dive from Murphy.
Three minutes later Newry pressed the self destruct button when they attempted to pass their way out of defence, a lateral ball across the pitch seized upon by William Frazer who played a one two with Mallen before calmly slotting his shot from the corner of the penalty area under the advancing Murphy to put Banbridge into a comfortable two goal lead which they held to the interval.
Newry were much better in the second half but could not find a way past a stubborn Rangers defensive wall which appeared content to soak up whatever Newry could throw at them. The Banbridge cause was not helped by two moments of stupidity from midfielder Scott Ward who was booked for a trip on 61 minutes and received a second yellow on 65 for a pull on the shirt of McCann, the Rangers man not waiting to be shown a red card by referee Conor Smith who had an excellent afternoons officiating despite the difficult weather conditions.
The dismissal did not give Newry any more possession as they were completely dominant at this stage but it did allow them to get extra bodies into attacking positions which bore almost immediate dividend after 68 minutes when McCabe and Grant combined for a short corner to swing a cross to the back post towards McMullan. The big man still had much to do as he out muscled Rangers captain Colin Cousins to head into the top corner from close range to give Newry that much needed lifeline.
This time they did not waste it. On 75 minutes Grant played a one two with McMullan which would have given him a free run on goal had he not been pulled back by Jonny Porter for another yellow card which were piling up for the home team. Newry kept the pressure on and drew level on 77 minutes when Thomas McCann delivered the ball into the feet of McMullan, the big man displaying fleet of foot to spin off his marker and from an acute angle fire in a low cross which Freeburn could not hold, the ball spilled to the feet of the grateful Carville who finished with his first touch.
Newrys tail was now very much up, their persistence with the pass and move brand of football causing no end of trouble for a depleted home side. And it was from yet another transgression from the Banbridge that Newry took the lead. Awarded a free kick some 35 yards from goal the mercurial Jimmy Walker stepped up to the ball blasting his shot over the wall and into the roof of the Banbridge net for a picture goal to put Newry ahead.
If that goal could be bettered then the man to do it was McMullan. Having picked the ball up in a central position some 40 yards from goal McMullan found himself with his back to goal surrounded by Banbridge players. With a number of Newry players free McMullan had the option to play a simple pass. He had however other ideas and having spotted that Freeburn had strayed from his goal line, McMullan spun round and hit a perfect dipping shot over the keeper and into the back of the Banbridge net to give Newry a two goal cushion.
With referee Smith playing an additional nine minutes to make up for play being suspended during an exceptionally heavy hail shower Newry could and probably should have added to their advantage particularly after one passing movement with added time virtually up when Walker picked the ball up in the middle of the park and ran through the home defence courtesy of neat passes between himself, McCann, Carville and finally McMullan which ended with Walker having only Freeburn in goals to beat, alas pulling his shot the wrong side of the near post.
That however did not detract any from a splendid second half display from Newry which most likely owed a lot to whatever was said in the Newry dressing room at half time. Speaking after the game Newry manager Darren Mullen while not pleased with his team’s first half performance was heartened by their second half response “I knew this was going to be a tough game and the players were well warned before going out. The most disappointing thing is that they didn’t have to work for their goals. We were missing three players from last weeks starting eleven which disrupted us a bit but that’s not an excuse as I would expect other players to be able to step up. At half time we told them the next goal was vital and that’s all we wanted them to concentrate on. Our second goal was the lift that we needed and I felt there was going to be only one winner after that. It was a big win for us psychologically but we must know that we cannot afford to give teams easy goals like we did and that’s something we must learn from. That said it shows the character in the squad and we now have a bunch of lads who will fight to the final whistle. There is a lot we can take from this game, both good and bad as we prepare for next week’s semi final”
Newry City’s next game is a Premier Cup Semi Final on Friday 4th December against Camlough Rovers at The Showground’s kick off 7.45pm.
Newry City AFC: Murphy, Crilly, Mullen, McCaul, Walker, McCann, McCabe, Grant, McMullan, Carville. Subs: Lowry, Wilson, Sloan, Martin, Patton.
Photographs courtesy of Brendan Monaghan Photography.