“A super performance” was how Newry City manager Darren Mullen described his sides 4-1 demolition of preseason title favourites Portadown at Shamrock Park on Friday night.And as Mullen also pointed out the score line in no way flattered the Newry boys coming from an early goal down to dominate play, at the end perhaps a little disappointed not to win by more. That sentiment however will only come from within as this was a complete team performance from Newry, a measure of how well Newry played would be the difficulty in singling out their best player on the night, an honour which would probably go to Kevin McArdle who the Ports simply could not handle either defending or attacking.
Indeed McArdle was involved in the first chance of the night after ten minutes, linking with Jimmy Walker to put the ball into the danger area, Stephen Hughes heading over the bar. While Portadown enjoyed a short period of possession it was Newry who had the next chance, Mark Hughes finding Decky Carville in the middle of the park, Carville sweeping the ball wide into the path of Walker who made some ground before shooting from 30 yards out, John Connolly diving to push the ball over his cross bar.
The home side thought they had grabbed the lead on 22 minutes when from a corner Adam McCallum powered a header on goal, Newry saved by Stephen Hughes who cleared the ball from the goal line. And while Newry will claim that they were denied the opportunity to open the scoring after 25 minutes when Mark McCabe was on the end of some rough handling inside the box it was Portadown who scored first on 27 minutes, a free kick into the box sliding off a Newry head into the path of Chris Lavery who gave Stephen Maguire no chance from close range.
The Ports had half a chance to double the advantage minutes later when confusion inside the Newry penalty area allowed the ball to momentarily run free, fortunately for Newry Marcus McKeown was alert to the danger to clear. That was as good as it got for Portadown as from then Newry moved up a gear to dominate, their pace, movement off the ball and quick passing simply too much for the home side. On 36 minutes Newry’s play was rewarded, be it a little furtuiously when Walkers shot was blocked on its way to goal and with several players challenging for the loose ball it was Portadown defender Kyle Neill who got to it first only to prod the ball past Connolly into his own net to level the scores.
A minute before half time Newry went ahead with a goal that captured everything that is good about their play. A sequence which started from a Portadown kick out, Carville winning the midfield aerial battle with a powerful header into space, Keith Johnston outpacing the defence to latch onto the loose ball before finding McCabe on the penalty spot. Aware of Walkers arrival behind him McCabe cleverly kept the ball moving, rolling the ball into the path of Walker who picked his spot in the corner of the Portadown net for a picture goal.
It got even better for Newry minutes into the second half, Carville rising highest at the back post to win a Walker corner, Carville’s header brilliantly scooped out of the bottom corner by the diving Connolly. There was nothing the keeper could do with the rebound however, Carville lashing the ball into the roof of the net to put his side 3-1 ahead.
Portadown had a fleeting opportunity to get back into the game on 65 minutes, Stephen Maguire electing to punch Peter Duffins shot from the edge of the box to safety. Minutes later Newry should have been out of sight, a long pass from Carville taking the Ports defence out of play giving Johnston a free run on goal, the winger electing to chip the advancing Connolly unfortunate to watch the ball bounce the wrong side of the empty goal. McArdle was giving Portadown all sorts of trouble pushing forward from right back and on 75 minutes he was almost rewarded with goal number 4, leaving opponents for dead as he turned inside and outside before finding McCabe with his back to goal, the Newry number 9 swivelling to shoot for the far corner missing the post by inches.
On 85 minutes McArdle was on defensive duty, the speedy Lavery cutting in from the wing along Newry by line, McArdle sliding in with a perfectly timed tackle to deflect the ball for a corner. With time almost up the pace of the Newry attack was again too much for Portadown, Walker releasing Marty Havern on the left wing, Havern drawing defenders before unselfishly setting up the better placed McCabe who made no mistake from close range to seal the points for Newry.
And so the winning run off games for Newry continues but as usual manager Darren Mullen takes it one game at a time “This was a superb performance from start to finish and a result that certainly didn’t flatter us. The work rate of the players as well as the quality was a joy to watch and each and every one of them deserve massive credit. I thought we should have had a penalty before they scored against the run of play but we then reacted in the right manner. They couldn’t handle our pace and movement with our second goal summing up everything good about how we play. The message at half time was to get at them again but knew they would have moments of possession. We just needed to keep our shape and be ready to hit them on the break when in possession which we did on numerous occasions. Our style of play is physically demanding and involves a serious of work both in and out of possession but I couldn’t have been prouder of how the lads carried out our tactics. What we have is a bunch of lads who are putting in a serious shift and playing for each other. The squad is still thin on the ground due to injuries but that’s an opportunity for some of the young lads to take their chance and it was pleasing to be able to give Leigh Crooks his Irish League debut. We are on a good run but there’s it’s a long season and we will just focus on the next game now. A final word for our fans who turned out in numbers and their support was greatly appreciated.”
Newry City AFC: Maguire, McArdle, Hughes, Boyle, McCann, Walker, Carville, McCabe, Hughes, Johnston. Subs: Havern, Cunningham, McKeown, Crooks, Irwin.
Newry now turn their attention to Friday next, the 3rd November when they play Harland & Wolff Welders at The Showgrounds, kick off 7:45pm.