Newry City bowed out of this seasons League cup on Tuesday night at the Bangor Fuels Arena but not before putting in a very credible performance against Premiership opponents Ards in a cup tie which was in the balance until the final minutes when the home side grabbed a vital third goal. To all those in attendance that however was a little unfair on the Newry boys who had not only battled hard but had also stuck to their own brand of quality passing football building from the back which both pleased manager Darren Mullen and also augurs well for the rest of the season “Although we are bitterly disappointed not to have won the game there are plenty of positives we can take from it. To go to a Premiership side and perform as well as we did is another sign of the progress we have made at the club. For 82 minutes we more than matched them and the 3-1 score line was certainly harsh on us. Ards were missing a few but we had half a dozen players unavailable which shows why we need a big squad this season. I can’t fault the players for their effort and the quality they showed in carrying out our game plan. It’s a pity we couldn’t see it out and come away with a win but if we keep that level of performance up we will be difficult to beat this season”
As for the game itself the first shot on target came after ten minutes when Newry’s right back Kevin McArdle burst free from his defensive duties making his way to the edge of the Ards penalty area from where he tested Liam McAuley in the home goal. This stirred Ards into life, a long ball up the right wing finding Guillaume Keke, his low ball into the six-yard box requiring an excellent block from Neil Mullen to stop a goal bound effort. With Jimmy Walker back to his very best most of the Newry attacking play was passing through his magic footwork and with willing runners up front in McCabe, Johnston and Hughes Newry continually posed a threat to the Ards goal. However, it was the home side who had the better chances and the visitors were saved by their keeper Peter Murphy with several quality saves before the interval.
On the half hour mark Murphy punched a corner clear only for the recycled cross to fall for Jamie Douglas who rushed his shot blazing the ball high and wide. This was followed by the best piece of action of the game, Gareth Tommons losing the Newry defence with a skilful turn on the edge of the box and with only Murphy to beat and time to pick his spot looked sure to score. The Newry keeper thought otherwise diving to the base of his left post to turn Tommons strike around the post for a corner with a splendid save.
Minutes later and Murphy excelled once more. A move which started with a hint of offside, the ball broke forward and with Ards attackers out numbering Newry defenders the home side played the ball wide for Keke to run onto, the Ards man foiled by Murphy who was fast off his line, resisted the temptation to dive in shepherding Keke to an acute angle from where Murphy once more pushed the ball for a corner. And when Murphy was beaten his captain came to Newry’s rescue, the resultant corner to the back post headed back over Murphy only to be cleared from the Newry goal line by Chris McMahon to keep the score line level at the break.
Newry started the second half the quicker of the sides and threatened the Ards goal immediately, Walker slipping the ball through the defence for Johnston to force McAuley into conceding an early corner. This time Johnston became the provider delivering the perfect corner to the penalty spot from where Mullen rose highest to power a thumping header on goal, McAuley displaying tremendous reflexes to tip the ball onto the top of his cross bar for another corner.
On the break play swung to the other end and with the visitors once more outnumbered Jordan Hughes had time from the corner of the penalty area to curl his shot around Murphy striking the base of the far post, McMahon once more coming to Newry’s rescue reacting quickest to clear the rebound. With both sides playing open attacking football Newry were next up, Patton who battled hard throughout flicking on a Murphy kick out to Mark Hughes who fizzed the ball across the box alas evading both attackers and defenders.
The next ten minutes saw the spotlight fall on three penalty incidents, two of which were given, the other waved away by referee Steven Taylor. The first appeal on the hour mark was not given much to Newry’s dismay. From deep in their own half Newry played a long ball over the top of the Ards defence for which Johnston used his pace to get goal side of the Ards defence only to be bundled over by an innocuous challenge from behind for which he required treatment, referee Taylor still some distance from the action waving play on.
The referee got the next two decisions correct however, a low corner to the near post causing the Newry players to bundle over Carl McComb, the same player dusting himself down to give Murphy no chance with the spot kick. Newry refused to panic and maintained their passing brand which bore almost immediate fruit Mark McCabe and Johnston combining to release Hughes on the left wing, Hughes outpacing his marker as he turned along the bye line, referee Taylor judging that Hughes was pulled back duly awarding a second penalty which Walker placed past McAuley to level the score line.
Play continued to be end to end with Newry introducing the new attacking threat of Decky Carville and Tiarnan Rushe for his debut. With Rushe displaying both trickery and pace on the wing and Carville now a valuable aerial threat in the box Newry looked capable of winning the tie. They were however clinically punished on the 82nd minute when an attack broke down on the halfway line, McComb intercepting a Newry pass and in a flash the top flight side swept the ball to the opposite flank where David McAllister took a touch before giving Murphy little chance with a placed shot to give Ards a lead.
With time now against them Newry threw men bodies forward in search of an equalizer and were made to pay with time almost up when the home side scored on the break. Once more McComb inflicted the damage playing a give and go with Tommons before firing home for a third goal which secured a scarcely deserved two goal winning margin.
So after a very good team performance Newry must turn their sights on more important league matters and in particular Saturdays game away to Lisburn Distillery at New Grosvenor. Newry City travel club bus will leave the Stone Bridge at 13:30, all welcome.
Newry City AFC Team: Peter Murphy, Kevin McArdle, Conor McCaul, Neil Mullen, Ian Curran, Chris McMahon, James Walker, Mark Patton, Keith Johnston, Mark McCabe, Mark Hughes. Subs: Padraig Smith, Stephen McCabe, Declan Carville, Joshua Durnin, Tiarnan Rushe.