Points don’t come easy on the tight confines at Glen Road Heights, the home of Belfast side Sport & Leisure Swifts and that’s why Newry manager Darren Mullen was so pleased with his sides 1-0 win on Tuesday night to finish off their pre-split set of fixtures “Sometimes you have to grind out wins and that was certainly the case tonight. It was as tough a game as we’ve had all season and we rode our luck at the start of the second half. We knew it was going to be a battle with plenty of long balls into the box and we had to stand up to that especially against the wind in the first half. We had a few really good chances in the first half but it was a scrappy game at times and we needed to stay disciplined. The longer the game went on the more dangerous we looked and thankfully we got our rewards. I think the term applicable is ‘winning ugly’ and its games like this that show the mentality of the squad. We know we will play a lot better in games but considering the conditions and the opposition it was a really satisfying win and sets up nicely for the run in.”
Faced with a completely different type of challenge in both the makeup of the opposition and the narrow playing field the Newry travelling support could never have expected a repeat of the footballing excellence which their team displayed against Limavady on Saturday. Indeed, the only similarity between the games was that there was another 3 points to be won. And so the scene was set for a hard-fought battle and that’s exactly how things panned out. It took Newry a full 15 minutes to threaten the Swifts goal, Decky Carville spotting the wide run of Kevin McArdle, his low cross to the back post carrying too much pace for Mark Hughes who could only deflect the ball over the crossbar.
At the other end the Swifts game plan was to bombard the Newry penalty area with as many high balls as possible, the handling of Newry keeper Kieran Gordon and the aerial ability of John Boyle, Paddy Mooney and Mark Patton amongst others coming to the fore as the home side made use of a stiff breeze to test the Newry defence with long throw ins and corners. Clear scoring chances were to be at a premium and on the half hour mark one came the way of Newry, Carville’s hard work forcing a poor defensive clearance, the ball falling to Jimmy Walker who immediately swung the ball into Mark McCabe, his downward header forcing a fine reaction safe from the Swifts keeper Michael Magill ensuring the sides went into the break level.
Newry were caught cold at the start of the second half with two excellent chances coming the way of the home side. The half was only a couple of minutes old when a long kick out was helped on by Kevin McGovern into the path of centre forward Anthony McConnell. With only Gordon to beat McConnell chose to shoot early as the Newry keeper advanced from his line, the ball bouncing wide of Gordons far post. Newry were finding it difficult to create much going forward, the narrow pitch helping the home side close down Newry’s passing brand of football although Mark Hughes did create a chance for himself on 55 minutes cutting in from the left wing before trying his luck with a shot from the edge of the area which failed to trouble the keeper.
On the hour mark McConnell once more got behind the Newry defence, this time fed by Darren Gallagher again the striker failed to find the target with only Gordon to beat. The Newry keeper did come to his sides rescue minutes later when a long ball from Pierce Tully found McGovern in space on the right wing, McGovern taking a touch before blasting his shot to the near post, Gordon pulling off a fine diving save to push the ball into his side netting. And Gordon was soon back in the thick of the action with a sharp reaction stop to a close-range header from Ryan Burns, Patton winning the aerial battle to complete the clearance. At this stage Newry began to get the better of things and came close to scoring after 70 minutes when Patton’s header found Mark McCabe, McCabe embarking on a solo run which ended with a low shot across goal which had to be turned behind for a corner at the far post.
The Newry striker had better luck minutes later, Hughes skipping inside his marker before firing in a low shot from outside the box. When Swifts keeper Magill failed to hold onto the ball Keith Johnston was first to the loose ball hooking it back across goal perfect for Mark McCabe to finish to put Newry a goal up. And that’s how the game finished despite the best efforts of the home side who threw everything at Newry but never really looked like winning an aerial battle with a solid Newry defence bolstered by Patton and Man of the Match Decky Carville.
Newry now start their post-split fixtures with the short journey to play Banbridge Town on Saturday, Kick Off 3pm. Newry travel club bus will leave The Stonebridge @ 2pm.
Newry City AFC: Kieran Gordon, Kevin McArdle, Stephen McCabe, Paddy Mooney, John Boyle, Mark Patton, Jimmy Walker, Keith Johnston, Mark McCabe, Declan Carville, Mark Hughes. Subs: Sean McMullan, Conor McCaul, Marty Havern, Ian Curran, Neil Mullen.