Newry City missed the opportunity to go top of the Premier Intermediate League table on Thursday night losing 2-1 to Belfast side Newington in a rearranged league fixture. Ultimately it was the concession of a penalty kick in each half which did the damage but in truth the Newry boys were unable to reach the level of performance which saw them win their three previous games, a fact which frustrated manager Darren Mullen “This was a chance missed not only to move into top spot but to consolidate our position within the top six. The disappointing thing is that the players were told exactly how Newington would play and they still didn’t deal with it in the first half. They were the better side in the first half without creating many chances but we struggled to get any rhythm in our play and were fortunate to go in level at the break. We were a lot better in the second half and looked like we wanted to win the game. We moved the ball a lot better and had the movement off the ball that was badly lacking in the first half. It’s a game we could have won even without playing at our best but their keeper pulled off two super saves to deny us a result. Unfortunately, we have been beaten by what can only be described as two very soft penalties. It’s our first league defeat in 5 games so there’s no need to panic. This league throws up unexpected results on a weekly basis and with 33 points left to play for we are still right in the mix.”
With the Newry boys expecting a physical game Newington let them know early on that they were not about to disappoint, both midfielders Joe McDonnell and Ronan Brannigan booked inside the opening 10 minutes for robust tackles. And it was Newington who were first to test either keeper, Sean McAuley swinging a dangerous free kick into the Newry box which Kieran Gordon, making his Newry debut, expertly dealt with. From this possession Gordon set up Newry’s first goal scoring chance, a long ball over the Newington defence allowing Keith Johnston to get goal side of the defence before taking a tumble inside the box, referee MacDonald waving away Newry claims for a penalty. Unfortunately for Newry, MacDonald took a different view of a tame challenge on Newington’s Conal Burn’s after 20 minutes inside the Newry penalty area, immediately pointing for a penalty kick which Burn’s calmly placed in the bottom corner of Gordons goal to put the home side a goal up. Newry had a half chance to draw level almost immediately, Mark Hughes setting Jimmy Walker up with a shooting opportunity on the edge of the penalty area, Walkers curling shot going the wrong side of the Newington post. A clever free kick almost caught Newry out after 35 minutes, with Newry expecting a cross, a direct ball down the touch line allowed Burns behind the Newry defence, Gordon forced to dive amongst incoming boots to smother the crossed ball. With five minutes remaining in the half and perhaps against the run of play Newry drew level, Mark Patton and Ian Curran challenging for a Johnston corner, the ball falling for Decky Carville who wasted no time blasting the loose ball high into the Newington net to leave the sides level at the break.
With the boost of a late equalizer in the first half Newry started the second much better, with only 3 minutes on the clock Johnston picked out the late run of Hughes into the box with a diagonal cross, Newington’s Stephen Brennan doing well to deflect the ball behind for a corner with Hughes about to pull the trigger. At the other end Paddy Mooney was called into action to deal with a dangerous ball into the Newry danger area. Indeed Mooney was called upon on several occasions to quell any threat to the Newry goal before the visitors had a great chance of their own, Curran lobbing a precise ball over the Newington defence, into the path of Thomas McCann, McCann spotting that Dean Smyth had left his goal line most unfortunate not to get enough elevation on the ball, Smyth stretching to save. Newry had a mighty let off after 65 minutes, Newington substitute Daniel White making room to cross from the right wing perfect for the unmarked Padraig Scollay who planted his header over the Newry crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
The let off was temporary however, with 70 minutes on the clock referee MacDonald once more saw fit to award Newington a spot kick judging that a Newry player had pushed his opponent as they jostled for a corner. Once again Burns stepped up, this time Gordon was unfortunate, getting his finger tips to the ball but unable to stop its path into the bottom corner to restore the home sides advantage. With 10 minutes left Newington were reduced to 10 men when substitute Stephen Sullivan received a straight red after an altercation with Curran. A goal down and a numerical advantage Newry pushed for the equalizer. With 10 minutes left Curran once again pitched the ball over the Newington defence for Johnston to swing a cross to the near post, Carville’s glancing header tipped over the crossbar by Smyth. And with time running out the Newry support thought that Hughes had grabbed a point with a stoppage time equalizer, his low shot appearing destined for the bottom corner of the Newington net, Smyth somehow getting across goal to turn the ball around the post. And there was still time for a last chance Stephen McCabe drilling a low cross into the box, Marcus McKeown’s shot on the turn flying wide and with it Newry’s fleeting chance to grab the top of the table spot.
Newry’s next match is a home league fixture on Saturday next, the 25th February at The Showgrounds, kick off 3pm.
Newry City AFC: Gordon, McArdle, McCabe, Mooney, Curran, Walker, Patton, McCann, Carville, Johnston, Hughes. Subs: Boyle, McMullan, Grant, King, McKeown.