Newry City scored four goals for the third time in four games as they over ran league leaders Ballyclare Comrades at The Showgrounds on Saturday. Having put an indifferent start to the season well and truly behind them Newry are now on a splendid run of form which has seen them take 19 out of a possible 21 points lifting them to 3rd place in the league with eyes firmly on a promotion spot. And if Saturdays performance is anything to go by then that’s a very real possibility with the home side easily soaking up the early pressure of the league leaders before gradually taking control running out very convincing winners.
While scoring goals comes naturally to this Newry team, Saturdays 4 taking the seasons tally to 27, the 2nd highest in the league, they are also strong defensively boasting the lowest number of goals conceded. It was those defensive attributes which were needed in the opening quarter on Saturday with Steven Maguire looking very assured between the sticks while in front of him Darren King was foremost in a defensive unit which was rarely flustered.
Even though the Comrades had the early possession it was far from one-way traffic with Newry always a threat on the break, the home side coming closest to opening the scoring after 10 minutes, Mark McCabe crossing from the right wing, the ball falling for Keith Johnston who drilled his shot goal wards only for it to slam into the back of Stephen Hughes and ricochet clear.
Though Newry had soaked up some early pressure it wasn’t until the 22nd minute that Maguire was called into action tipping a header from Gary Brown over his cross bar. With both defences on top it was going to take a moment of brilliance to open the scoring and with 35 minutes gone that moment came from Jimmy Walker. A chance created by Mark Hughes pushing forward on the Newry left the ball fell to Walker outside the box. Still with loads to do Walker wasted little time slicing a right foot volley into the bottom corner of the Comrades net to put Newry a goal up.
Throughout the first half Ballyclare had won more than their share of corners and from one of these they almost equalized on 40 minutes, Adam McCort rising highest to power a header on goal, Maguire well positioned to save. The final chance of the half came the home sides way, Mark Hughes playing a long pass into space behind the Comrades defence. McCabe out pacing both his marker and the Ballyclare keeper in the race for the ball, unfortunate that his touch took the ball too wide allowing the defence to get back to snuff out the chance leaving the half time score 1-0 to Newry.
Having started rather slowly the 2nd half came to life after 55 minutes and once more that man Walker was at the centre, receiving the ball from Stephen Hughes on the corner of the box, Walker went for the audacious, curling a dipping shot up and over both defence and keeper before cannoning off the crossbar. Newry were making all the chances, the Comrades goal leading a charmed life just after the hour mark when Johnston worked room on the right wing before drilling the ball across the box, the ball taking several deflections before it was eventually hacked clear.
The visitors had chances as well, Thomas McCann popping up with an important block to deny John Dobbin on the edge of the Newry box while substitute Michael O’Hanlon went even closer for the league leaders on 67 minutes, latching onto a long clearance and having spotted that Maguire had strayed from his goal line tried a long range lob which had the back pedalling Maguire worried until it sailed wide of his post.
On 70 minutes Newry took control of the game with goal number two. A chance again made by Stephen Hughes cleverly making room on the right wing and now with time to pick out Mark McCabe peeling off his marker to ghost in at the back post to meet Hughes cross with a diving header for a splendid goal.
Five minutes later and the game was effectively over. Having won a series of corners themselves in the second half Newry switched from high balls, which without the aerial threat of the suspended Decky Carville had come to nothing, to curling a low ball to the near post, Mark Hughes cross helped on by Marty Havern perfectly into the path of Darren King who crowned his Man of the Match defensive display with a clinical finish for goal number 3.
With Newry now rampant goal number 4 wasn’t long coming, 78 minutes on the clock when Newry’s pressing game paid more dividends, Havern hassling a mistake out of the Ballyclare defence before making the most from the opportunity he had made for himself, driving his shot under the advancing Paddy Flood to round off the Newry scoring.
The final minute brought the only blemish on a flawless Newry display when a cross from Ballyclare’s Adam Gray was turned into the Newry net by a home defender but that did little to take the gloss off a stunning win which sends a message through the league that Newry are genuine title contenders this season. As usual Newry manager Darren Mullen was willing to look only as far as the next game “I thought the first half was an even enough affair and even though we came in 1-0 up we weren’t at our best. They are top of the league for a reason and although we created chances they were still well in the game. Micky Keenan had commented at half time that it was the first time he had seen a team work harder than us, so the players knew they had to up their game. Thankfully they responded in the right manner and we were well deserving of our win.
“The 4 goals certainly didn’t flatter us and the late goal we conceded showed the annoyance the lads had at not keeping a clean sheet. When you are winning and scoring plenty of goals the forwards get plenty of praise but I thought our backline were brilliant again today. Darren King and John Boyle have formed a terrific partnership along with the work Thomas McCann does in front of them allowing Kevin McArdle and Mark Hughes to get forward.
“Special mention also has to go to Marty Havern and Jackie Cunningham who have had to bide their time on the bench but have shown a great attitude. Marty came on to score and set up one showing his undoubted quality. Jackie should be an example to any local player. He was playing Carnbane football last season and is now playing Irish league football for his hometown club. All in all it was a good day for us but we know Limavady will be doing all they can to halt our progress next Friday night.”
Newry now turn their attention to next Friday night 24th November when Limavady are the visitors to The Showgrounds, kick off 8pm
Newry City AFC: Maguire, McArdle, M Hughes, King, Boyle, McCann. Walker, McKeown, McCabe, S Hughes, Johnston. Subs: Havern, Cunningham, Richmond, Mullen, Hutchinson.