City produced a stirring comeback to take a point at home to Donegal Celtic on Tuesday night, having found themselves 2-0 down after less than half an hour.
Former Camlough Rovers striker Declan Monaghan found the net for the visitors twice in the space of seven first half minutes to put the Belfast side in control of the game. However, a fine Mark McCabe strike in stoppage time before the break gave City a lifeline and then Keith Johnston’s superb volley 20 minutes from time brought Darren Mullen’s men level.
Despite dominating after the break, Newry just couldn’t find the winner they craved, due to combination of wayward finishing and some excellent goalkeeping from DC’s Sean McIlhone.
With league leaders Limavady, who come to The Showgrounds next Tuesday night, easing past Tobermore United 5-1 in their match, and City dropping points, Newry now sit four off the top with three games remaining, while DC are a further four points behind in third place in the Premier Intermediate League.
Mullen was forced into one change from the starting line-up that beat Banbridge convincingly away from home on Saturday, with Jordan King coming in at left-back for the injured Stephen McCabe. McCabe’s early replacement against Banbridge, Conor McCaul, also picked up a knock in that game with King given the nod on Tuesday night.
A somewhat nervy start from City saw them create very little by way of goalscoring opportunities in the opening quarter of the game, while Stephen Hatfield’s visitors looked dangerous when they went forward.
The Hoops opened the scoring on 21 minutes when ace marksman Monaghan found himself unmarked six yards out to head home following a Stephen Doyle cross from the left hand side.
Things then went from bad to worse for Newry just seven minutes later as DC doubled their advantage after capitalising on a mistake just inside the City half.
King’s attempted pass was comfortably intercepted by Robert McVarnock and his through ball ran just out of the reach of Paddy Mooney, with Monaghan on hand to coolly tuck the ball past Kieran Gordon to make it 2-0 and give Newry a mountain to climb to get anything out of the game.
The hosts did manage to create openings after that however and after Mark McCabe has flashed a near post header from a Mark Hughes corner wide, Hughes himself brought a superb save out of McIlhone after he got his head on the end of a Johnston corner from the opposite side as the half drew to a close.
There was still time for City to haul themselves back into it and they did just that in fine style in the second minute of stoppage time.
Collecting the ball on the edge of the box on the left hand side, McCabe sized up his options and produced an inch-perfect curling finish that flew just out of the reach of the full-length McIlhone and into the top right hand corner of the net to make it 2-1 at the break.
With renewed impetus in the second half, Newry took charge of proceedings and began to pin Celtic back into their own half as they looked for the equaliser.
After Decky Carville and Mark Hughes had gone close, Newry did get back on level terms with a goal that was arguably even better than McCabe’s sumptuous first half strike.
With 20 minutes remaining, the ball was fed into Johnston just outside the box and when it looked like there was little on, the diminutive forward controlled before swivelling to hook a right foot volley over McIlhone and into the left hand corner to raise the spirits of the sizeable home support.
Newry did have chances to win it as they continued their dominance, the best falling to Hughes who could only head straight at McIlhone from point blank range, with the keeper grateful to grab the ball right on the goal-line.
Deep into injury time, City had one last chance to take all three points when Paddy Mooney floated a deep free-kick into the Celtic box. With McIlhone misjudging it, the keeper could only get his fingertips to the ball as it fell behind him and out for a corner. Had he been a yard to his right, the ball would have found the net.
However, it wasn’t to be as City were left to rue what might have been in their race for the title ahead of their trip to Tobermore United this Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
The Travel Club bus departs The Stonebridge at 12.45pm sharp. All welcome.
Match Day Mascot, 6 year old Tiarnan McArdle from Dundalk.
Newry City AFC: Gordon, McArdle, King, Mooney, Boyle, Patton, McCann, Johnston, McCabe, Carville, Hughes. Subs: Walker, Mullen, McMullan, Grant, Havern.
Donegal Celtic: McIlhone, Rossborough, Burns, Southam, Doyle, Derry, Monaghan, O’Neill, Hughes, Feher, McVarnock. Subs: Munce, Conlon, Corry, Wilson, McClorey.