Newry City completed a hat trick of wins for the season over Banbridge Rangers on Saturday with a victory which secures their place in the end of season Mid Ulster show piece Marshall Cup final. Before that the Newry boys will switch their sights to securing the league title on Tuesday night and will surely go into that game against Broomhill brimful of confidence with a league and cup treble now looking possible.
Fielding what was probably their strongest team of the season Banbridge Rangers started the game on the front foot but were unable to turn their early possession into a strike on goal. Indeed it was the home side who created the first chance, Jimmy Walker pitching a ball to the edge of the box which Sean McMullan chested down for Decky Carville to strike, his shot however rising from the moment it left his boot.
Danger to the Newry goal on 17 minutes when a deflection from a Newry player in the middle of the field saw the ball fall to Rangers centre forward Stephen Taggart loitering goal side of the Newry defenders. Fortunately for Newry Taggart was as surprised as anyone to get the ball which allowed Conor McCaul, who was carrying a knock from an earlier clash, to quickly recover the necessary ground to make a superbly timed tackle to clear the danger for a corner.
That earlier knock was to have further ramifications for Newry as without McCaul, who had to leave the field to receive treatment, the home side were unable to deal with the corner which was allowed to travel right across the face of the Newry goal to the back post where Jeff Brady turned the ball goalwards and despite the best efforts of Chris McMahon to prevent it from crossing the line any doubt that Brady’s effort had gone in was rendered immaterial when Mark Wilton stabbed the loose ball past Murphy to give Banbridge the lead.
With plenty of time on the clock the home side gradually got on top and created a number of chances before half time which on another day would have bore fruit. With 24 minutes gone Jimmy Walker blasted a free kick from the corner of the box which appeared destined for the far top corner only for a brave headed interception from Ryan Gregg. On 36 minutes McMullan saw the opportunity for a quick short corner allowing Walker time to find Carville at the back post, his sliding effort diverted wide.
Chances kept coming, with five minutes remaining McMahon pushed forward to play a low cross into the box which Mark Patton controlled before unselfishly setting up McMullan, the striker making room to get his shot away which beat Ivon Blevins but not William Frazer who covered behind his keeper to make a terrific clearance. Completely on top Newry simply didn’t want the half to end and had one more glorious chance before the break when Paddy Mooney crossed to the back post, Thomas McCann lobbed the ball back to the centre of the goal for Carville who looked set to score but couldn’t keep his header down, the ball slipping over the crossbar much to Banbridge Rangers relief.
As expected Newry dominated possession from the restart but found it difficult to create clear chances against a visiting team who appeared content to hold onto their single goal lead. With the half minutes old McMullan spread play wide to McCann who swung a dangerous ball across the box which beat everyone to go harmlessly wide. Newry continued to probe for an opening without success until the hour mark when McMullan was fouled on the edge of the box, perfect for a Walker strike on goal. As so often this season Walker found the target with his free kick which he bent up and over the wall, Blevins tipping his shot over with a fine diving save.
The home side grabbed an equalizer after 65 minutes in somewhat contentious circumstances. Beginning with a Walker corner on the right the ball bounced around the box and with the Newry fans shouting for a penalty when Neil Mullen was flattened, Carville nodded the ball down to Mark Patton and while Banbridge appealed for offside he blasted the ball to the roof of the net for a deserved equalizer for the Newry boys.
Minutes later and Newry had almost turned the game around, McMullan chasing a long pass to the end line where he feigned to cross but cut back inside the box which completely lost Ryan Gregg and now from an acute angle the league’s top scorer went for the near post but found Blevins up to the challenge, the keeper blocking his shot at the expense of a corner. Although restricted to attacking on the break the visitors still posed a threat and could have scored on 75 minutes when a crossed ball evaded the Newry defence, fortunately for the home side also beating the sole Rangers attacker.
On 80 minutes Thomas McCann won the ball in midfield, quickly found Carville who played a clever ball inside the full back for McCann to run onto, the move foiled by the alert Blevins who was quickly off his line to clear. At the other end Newry were saved by Peter Murphy who displayed terrific reactions to deflect a Brady volley from close range for a corner.
Newry manger Darren Mullen had the luxury of having four quality attacking players on the bench and it was a movement which involved two of these which finally won the game for Newry. With only two minutes remaining and play deep inside the Banbridge half Timmy Grant knocked the ball to Walker who played an instinctive lobbed ball over the Rangers defence for Stephen McCabe to use that burst of speed which he has always possessed to get to the ball first, McCabe the calmest man on the pitch as he lobbed the advancing Blevins, the ball taking one bounce as it entered the Banbridge net to give Newry the lead which they held to the final whistle setting up a final against Valley Rangers on Friday 13th May at Crystal Park.
With Tuesday’s league game against Broomhill next on the agenda Newry manager Darren Mullen was delighted with Saturday’s performance ‘This was a really good cup tie which I knew was going to be a difficult game. From the first minute the tempo was high and we needed to be up for the challenge. Unfortunately some poor defending cost us before the half but I thought we finished the half stronger and looked the more likely to score. The message at half time was not to panic and that we had come from behind numerous times this season. We were the better side in the second half and knew if we were patient the goals would come.
Thankfully they did and we ran out deserving winners. Having the likes of Giggsy, Timmy and Lowry ready to come off the bench gives us real pace in attack and they are all a handful for any defence. We now have another cup final to look forward to in what will no doubt be another tough game but our focus now turns to Tuesday night. Hopefully our supporters will turn out in force in what is a massive game for us and a great opportunity to win another league title. Broomhill won’t make it easy for us but we are ready to face the challenge.’
This weekend, Newry were delighted to have a special guest as our Match day Mascot. Captain Chris McMahon, Niall Crilly & Sean McMullan first met Kaiden McAlinden at Christmas when they visited the Childrens Ward in Daisy Hill Hospital.
At only four years old Kaiden enjoyed his whole experience of being mascot, taking part in the team warm up while scoring a goal against Newrys number one Murphy, walking out on to the pitch with the team for kick off and even presented Conor McCaul with his Man of the Match Award. Kaiden was certainly up for the job!
The Newry City AFC Travel Club bus to Broomhill will be departing from the Stonebridge at 6pm sharp on Tuesday night. All are welcome.
Newry City AFC Team: Murphy, Mooney, McCaul, Mullen, McMahon, McCann, McArdle, Carville, Walker, Patton, McMullan. Subs: McCabe, Grant, Johnson, Lowry, Edgar.