Newry City made it through to the Quarter Final of the Mid Ulster Cup and a home tie against Premiership side Dungannon Swifts on Tuesday night at a packed Showgrounds but it took 120 minutes of football against Windmill Stars before the pressure finally told, Newry running out 4-1 winners after extra time.
Had it been a boxing match the tie would have been done and dusted by half time with Newry missing a host of chances. That said it looked as though Windmill would go into the half time break in the lead thanks to a goal from ex-Warrenpoint Town and Newry striker Sean McMullan who gave the visitors the lead on 23 minutes with a typical goal scorers close range finish. Either side of McMullan’s goal a mixture of some poor shooting, a bit of bad luck with Marty Havern smacking a shot of the Windmill crossbar and some fine saves from another ex-Newry man Peter Murphy left Newry with nothing to show from the majority of possession. That changed in first half stoppage time, Declan Carville releasing Kevin McArdle wide on the right, McArdle’s pull back pass finding Keith Johnston unmarked and this time the wee man made no mistake picking out the bottom left hand corner of the Windmill net to level the scores at half time.
While Newry again dominated play in the second half goal chances were more evenly shared, indeed on breaks up field it was Windmill who perhaps created the best opportunities, clever play from Jody McGovern setting up Ruairi Devlin for a strike on goal, Stephen Maguire safely dealing with the shot. At the other end Murphy again came to his sides rescue diving full length to tip a Jimmy Walker free kick around the post. And with 10 minutes remaining Newry had a real scare, the ball bouncing around the home box finally falling to Joe McLoughlin who blasted his shot towards goal, Newry saved by a brave block from Thomas McCann ensuring the game went to extra time.
Having started with a game plan to nullify Newry’s passing game through sheer hard work coupled with the fact that Windmill have become used to plying their trade on the artificial surface at Armagh City the Windmill players were visibly tiring on the Showgrounds grass pitch and extra time always looked likely to be an uphill battle for them and so it proved with Newry’s superior fitness finally paying off in the first period of extra, Walker playing a one two with Mark McCabe before drilling a low shot into the bottom corner of the Windmill net from the edge of the penalty area. Minutes later and the tie was over, Paul Mallon pitching a ball from deep in his own half perfect for McCabe to run onto before spotting that Murphy had strayed from his line and striking a dipping shot from all of 40 yards over the keeper and into the Windmill net to put Newry 3-1 ahead. Newry rounded off the scoring three minutes into the second period, Stephen Hughes sliding a through ball for McCabe to run onto, the Newry centre forward rounding Murphy before slotting the ball home from a tight angle.
So in the end a three goal margin for Newry but it was a somewhat relieved manager Darren Mullen who spoke after the game “This was a game we made a lot more difficult than it should have been due to some wayward finishing. Windmill had a game plan and deserve great credit for the work they put in trying to stop us playing. We had the lion’s share of possession throughout but were far too slow in our approach play especially in the first half. It was written that Mully would score against us but we had more than enough chances to finish the game in normal time. The longer the game went on our superior fitness told and we were able to punish them with some really good finishes. We know we can play a lot better but our squad is threadbare at the minute and those that could do with a rest aren’t getting it. Hopefully we can get some players back for this weekend for what will be another difficult game against Institute”