A point gained or two points lost was the discussion point amongst the Newry City fans after Friday night’s 1-1 draw against league title rivals Hanover at The Showgrounds. Having dominated the first half without grabbing an all important goal Newry were stung by a second half Hanover goal which looked as if it was going to be enough to seal the points for the Portadown side. That was until the final minutes when Newrys top goal scorer, Sean McMullan, weighed in with goal number 25 for the season to earn his side a share of the points and keep their unbeaten league record intact.
Although Newry left it late to equalize it was probably no more than they deserved after a first half which they controlled for long periods, carved out all the chances but crucially converted none. Things did not start well for the home side losing Stephen McCabe to a muscle injury after only a few minutes and it took them until the 17th minute to have a sight of goal. As ever methodical passing possession was the order of the day until centre half Conor McCaul burst out of defence, skipping past challenges bringing him to the edge of the Hanover box from where he tried his luck, Matthew Short in the Hanover goal deflected the shot away from his goal, McMullan the first to react to the rebound. With Short still on the ground McMullan looked sure to score but with the ball at the edge of his reach he was unable to get his shot on target, the ball hitting the Hanover side netting.
Minutes later and the big man had another chance. Decky Carville nodded a high ball down to Karl McVerry who picked out McMullan inside the box. With his back to goal McMullan turned his marker and shot high towards the roof of the net thwarted by Short who deflected the ball away from goal. Newry kept pushing forward. On 25 minutes Chris McMahon and McMullan combined to find Carville outside the box. Unselfishly he spotted the arrival of Jimmy Walker laying the ball into the path of his midfield partner which Walker drove low and wide of Short’s post.
On the half hour mark McMahon and McVerry exchanged passes on the Newry left, McMahon finding room to venture into the Hanover half where he picked out Walker in space. With time to pick his pass Walker spotted that McVerry had continued his run forward and pitched a ball over the defence which McVerry met at the same time as the outstretched hand of Hanover keeper Short, the custodian doing enough to block McVerry’s effort.
With Hanover finding it difficult to penetrate a steady Newry defence the home side finished the half with a series of half chances none of which troubled Short. On 35 minutes neat passing between McMullan, Walker and Thomas McCann ended with a McMullan cross to the near post which found Timmy Grant with a much too acute angle to get his volley on the run on target. McMullan was seeing a lot of the ball and created the next chance, receiving a throw in from McMahon near the end line. With much to do McMullan turned on a sixpence before poking a low ball across the Hanover goal which the defence bundled clear with Grant hovering. And on the stroke of half time Carville crossed to McVerry at the back post, Hanover defender James Sergeant doing enough to deny McVerry a clean header.
The second half was minutes old when Newry got their first sight of goal when Walker had his jersey pulled on the edge of the Hanover box, referee David Berry awarding a free kick. Up stepped Walker to curl in a dipping shot which cannoned of Shorts crossbar, the rebound won in the air by McCaul who had his goal bound effort deflected wide.
The game was turned on its head on 55 minutes with a Hanover goal. Picking the ball up on the half way line Scott McCullough ghosted unchallenged past Newry players and from the corner of the box picked out Justin Bradley at the back post with a pin point cross which the Hanover centre forward headed firmly back across Peter Murphy to open the scoring.
Hanover were presented with a perfect chance to double their advantage on 70 minutes when Bradley chased a ball into the Newry box getting there just before Murphy who took the Hanover man down with his outstretched arms, referee Berry pointing straight to the penalty spot. The home side were reprieved however when Regan McIlveen side footed the spot kick over the Newry cross bar.
Boosted by this let off Newry set about looking for the equalizing goal. First McVerry flashed a McMullan knock down wide, Graeme Edgar ventured forward from corner back to test Short low at his near post and then Carville tried a chip from inside the box, the ball alas beating both Short and his crossbar as it fell behind the goal.
However with time running out Newry played their get out of jail card. And as so often before this season that card was to be ace goal scorer McMullan. Having unsuccessfully tried several avenues to unpick the Hanover rear guard the ball fell to Newry playmaker Walker midway inside the Hanover half. Looking up Walker spotted the run of McMullan behind the defence and landed a perfectly flighted ball into the path of the striker. While his first effort was stopped by the legs of Short, McMullan was not to be denied getting quickly to his feet to shoot into the Hanover net despite Short getting a despairing hand to the ball for a goal which was met with frenzied celebrations from the Newry fans behind the nets and which ensured the match ended in stalemate.
After the game Newry manager Darren Mullen was perhaps the happier of the two managers “It was a game of mixed emotions to be honest. I’m disappointed we didn’t capitalise on the possession and chances we had in the first half but considering how the second half panned out I’m happy with the draw. We were missing 4 players and then to lose Giggsy early on meant we were missing some pace out of the team. But the 2 things we have learned from tonight is the benefit of a big squad and the never say die attitude that we have within this group of players. Hanover are a good side and I expect them to be in the mix at the end of the season but that said we are still unbeaten and are well equipped for the challenges ahead. There is a great spirit amongst this group of players and as per the coaching staff they certainly won’t settle for second best. Nothing good comes easy and whatever happens I can assure our fans we will give everything until the last ball is kicked this season.’
Newry City now have a break in league action, travelling to play Coagh Utd in the Intermediate Cup. With the game kicking off on Saturday @1:30, Newry City travel club bus will leave The Stonebridge @ 11:30.
Newry City: Murphy, Mooney, Curran, McCaul, McMahon, Walker, McCann, Carville, McMullan, Grant, McCabe. Subs: Patton, Edgar, McVerry, Martin, Wilson.