Newry City turned what the Irish FA had selected as the tie of the 2nd round in the Intermediate Cup into a one-sided affair with a comprehensive win over high flying Ballymena United Reserves at The Showgrounds on Saturday. The game saw the return to the starting line-up of last seasons leading scorer Sean McMullan and the big man made the most of the opportunity bagging four quality goals in a 5-0 win. Another who grabbed the chance to enhance his rising reputation was goal keeper Jack Heaney who capped a solid competitive debut with a splendid save from a penalty kick when his side were leading by a solitary goal.
That opening goal for Newry arrived after ten minutes, Conor McCaul turning defence into attack with a centre field run before laying the ball wide to Mark Hughes, Hughes losing his marker before curling a cross into the box for which McMullan rose between Ballymena defenders to power a header into the top corner of the Ballymena net to give Newry an early lead. The visitors were given a lifeline minutes later when the referee ruled that Tyler Wilgaus had been bundled over as he received a throw in to his feet inside the box. With a golden opportunity to change the game up stepped Adam McCracken to drill a low hard shot to Heaney’s right, the Newry keeper diving to divert the ball for a corner with an excellent save. Having dodged the treat of level scores the Newry boys rewarded Heaney’s efforts with a second goal after 20 minutes. Awarded a corner on the right Jimmy Walker created a diversion by showing for a short pass allowing Declan Carville to ghost into the box unmarked, superbly picked out by another Hughes cross Carville headed the ball into the six-yard box where goal predator McMullan stooped to head past Ballymena keeper Tom Hegan for his and Newry’s second goal.
With the Newry defence well on top Ballymena’s chances were dealt a severe blow on the stroke of half time when Fra McCaffrey was shown a straight red card for dissent. And any lingering hopes which the visitors held were virtually extinguished on 48 minutes when Mark Patton won the ball inside his own half before cutting the Ballymena defence with a perfect pass for Walker to pick up in his stride, taking a touch before laying the ball across the face of goal inviting McMullan to time his run at the back post to neatly side foot home for his hat trick.
It was all the home side at this stage. On 50 minutes Havern slipped the ball into the box, McMullan forced wide pulled the ball back to Walker, his curling shot appeared destined for the bottom corner before a diving save from Hagen tipped it onto the post. The chances kept coming as from the corner Carville swept the ball wide to Hughes, he stepped inside before shooting for the same bottom corner once more denied by a combination of Hagen and the goal post.
Hagen was truly keeping the score down. On the hour mark Greg McCabe found McMullan on the half way line, McMullan swivelling to curl the ball forward for Carville to receive as he arrived inside the box before drilling a shot on goal which Hagen somehow deflected over for a corner. The goal chances had to eventually bear fruit and from the resulting corner they did in spectacular fashion. Patton heading the ball down to McMullan who with his back to goal juggled the ball before volleying over his head into the top corner of the Ballymena net for a picture goal. It was a case of how many at this stage, goal number five coming on 70 minutes after Greg McCabe once more made his way forward bringing the ball across the edge of the box before cleverly back heeling to Havern who drilled his shot high into the roof of the net before Hagen had a chance to react. The home side had further chances to add to the goal tally. With ten minute’s remaining Mark McCabe got the better of his man wide on the left taking the ball to the end line before pulling it back to McMullan, his first time shot bringing a spectacular reflex save from Hagen who managed somehow to deflect the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner Walker almost claimed the goal his afternoons effort deserved, taking a short pass from Hughes before creating a shooting angle rapping the ball off the Ballymena crossbar with the keeper well beaten.
However, for Newry manager Darren Mullen a 5-goal haul and a clean sheet was an acceptable outcome “This was a very solid performance from start to finish against a team that has been doing very well this season. We knew they would be good on the ball and full of running so we had to make sure they had no space or time to play. The players carried out our tactics to perfection and only for some terrific saves from their keeper we would have won by more. Jack Heaney had an excellent debut and pulled off a super save from a dubious penalty at a crucial time. At 19 he is a very good prospect and working with Micky Keenan can only make him better. Mully will rightly grab the headlines for his goals and he must be praised for his attitude both on and off the pitch this season which hasn’t been the easiest for him. Overall it was a very pleasing performance and sets up nicely for our cup semi-final this Friday night.’
Newry now turn their attention to Friday nights Bob Radcliffe Cup semi-final against Coagh under the floodlights at The Showgrounds, kick off 7:45pm.
Newry City AFC: Heaney, G McCabe, King, Mooney, McCaul, Patton, Walker, D Carville, McMullan, Havern, Hughes. Subs: M McCabe, Mullen, Edgar, Durnin, Paul Carvill