Three games to go and the destination of the Mid Ulster league title remains very much in Newry City’s control after Saturdays 4-0 win away to St Mary’s. From the first minute Newry showed that their intent was to pick up full points, Jimmy Walker collecting a pass from Newrys best player on the day Kevin McArdle before curling a shot across the penalty area towards the far top corner, the St Marys keeper Danny Devine scrambling across his line to deflect the ball wide. A temporary reprieve however as Newry got the early goal they wanted after 11 minutes, Conor McCaul rising highest at the back post to power a Walker corner past Devine before the keeper had a chance to react.
It was all Newry at this stage with the visitors virtually containing St Marys in their own half. Pressing high up the pitch Paddy Mooney forced a mistake from the St Marys defence to win possession before finding Sean McMullan on the edge of the penalty area, the striker taking a touch to control before attempting to lob the ball over Devine, his effort dropping the wrong side of the crossbar. It was a full 20 minutes before the Newry goal was threatened, Ciaran Rooney swinging a ball in from the right wing and with Ruairi Feeney about to pull the trigger Neil Mullen nipped in to take the ball out of the danger area.
Play swept immediately to the other end, McArdle and Thomas McCann setting up Walker for another shot from distance, the ball dipping and swerving in mid air, Devine making the wise decision to punch clear rather than attempting to catch. Pinning the home side back created its own problems for Newry as they had to contend with a packed final third of the pitch and too often promising attacks broke down. However on 26 minutes a string of passing to and fro burst into life with a ball into McMullan’s feet, the big man laying a first time ball wide to Walker before turning back into the box to win the crossed ball, his header flashing past the post with Devine rooted to the spot.
On the half hour mark Newry hit the woodwork for the first of what was later to become three times during the game, McCann swinging a high ball into the box which appeared to be going out but held up in the wind allowing Mooney, who had not given it up, to get an out stretched boot to turn the ball towards goal unfortunate to see it hit the post. Newrys final chance of the half almost produced a picture goal. Starting from Chris McMahon at right back a sweeping passing movement between McArdle, Carville and Walker culminated in McCann continuing his run into the box to meet a pass which sat up perfectly allowing him to smash a first time shot on target, Devine producing a fine diving save to push the ball away to keep the half time score 1-0 to Newry.
Newry got the second half off to the best possible start with and an early goal. McMahon made the most of space in front of him down the right wing before playing the ball inside to Carville. Strong on the ball Carville brushed aside a tackle before showing great vision to play a low diagonal pass across the box picking out Mooney’s run from the left wing, Mooney calmly placing his shot low past Devine to double Newrys advantage. Playing with the wind behind them Newry were virtually camped in the opposing half but had to wait until the hour mark until they came close again, McMullan holding play up with his back to goal before sliding a pass once more finding Mooney who this time went for a power finish, the ball rattling off the underside of the cross bar and out.
Now fully recovered from a serious knee injury Mark Patton gives Newry a different attacking option and shortly after being introduced as a second half substitute he gave St Marys an early warning of what he is capable off when he ran onto an Ian Curran pass to drill a low and hard shot from 25 yards unfortunately straight into the mid drift of Devine. The home side did not heed the warning and minutes later Patton claimed the goal of the day. Again Curran provided the ball out of defence, Patton flicked the ball wide to McCabe before spinning to get onto the return pass which he nodded down into his own path before blasting a half volley from the edge of the penalty box high into the roof of the St Marys net.
The St Marys woodwork shook for the third time on 85 minutes. With Newry awarded a free kick which looked perfectly placed for Jimmy Walker just outside the penalty area, the midfielder didn’t disappoint curling the ball over the wall to the far top corner only to hit the underside of the crossbar and bounce down onto the goal line before being cleared. The visitors did claim the fourth goal their performance deserved in the dying moments of the game when Patton was tripped inside the box, Timmy Grant taking the chance to drill the penalty straight down the middle of the goal to make the final score 4-0 for Newry.
With just those three league games to play Newry manager Darren Mullen was pleased with his side performance but knows there is more work to be done “We started the game very impressively with our pace and movement difficult to for them handle. Some of our passing was first class and it was only a matter of time before we took the lead. After we scored although we had loads of possession our decision making in the final third needed to be better. Our second half performance was much better and I can’t remember Peter Murphy having to make a save. We looked solid all over the pitch and never gave them any time or space to play. I was delighted to see Mark Patton get on the score sheet after the amount of effort he has put in since his knee operation. He epitomises the attitude and character we have in the squad this season. We now have three league games left but our sole focus is Fivemiletown this Tuesday night. A special mention has to go to our fans who have been brilliant this season and turned out in their numbers again on Saturday. We are going to need their support and it certainly gives the players an extra lift.’
Newry City now have two home fixtures. First up is the league visit of Fivemiletown to The Showgrounds on Tuesday 26th, KO 8 pm. Then on Saturday Newry City host Banbridge Rangers in the semi-final of the Marshall Cup, KO 2:15 pm.
Newry City AFC: Murphy, McMahon, Curran, McCaul, Mullen, McArdle, Walker, Carville, McMullan, McCann, Mooney. Subs: Patton, Johnston, McCabe, Edgar, Grant.