Late heartbreak for City…again
13 March 2019
The reaction from the players at the final whistle summed Newry City’s season up in one moment.
A number of them dropped to their knees and put their heads in their hands in the sheer disbelief that they had managed to drop yet more points from a positive position. One-nil up with five minutes to go courtesy of Decky Carville’s header nine minutes into the second half, City looked to be in control, despite Dungannon pushing forward in search of an equaliser.
However, five minutes and two scruffy home goals later, the vociferous Newry support present at Stangmore Park could scarcely believe what they were witnessing – except they could.
By even the most conservative of estimates, Newry have dropped 11 points this season due to the concession of late goals for the opposition. Those 11 points would have seen then out of the bottom two with seven games remaining.
It’s also telling that since the Boxing Day draw at Milltown, where Warrenpoint grabbed a 2-2 draw with a goal deep into stoppage time in a game City had dominated, Newry have failed to pick up a solitary league point away from home and only one overall in 11 games.
That’s why they now languish on their own at the bottom of the Premiership, a point adrift of a resurgent Ards.
Newry manager Darren Mullen was in no mood to speak to the assembled media post-match and when assistant manager Ray Byrne was asked if the result was Newry’s season in a nutshell, his response was telling.
“It’s happened far too often for it to be a coincidence. It’s a problem that we’ve had all the way through the season. To be fair, I thought we managed the game really well for 85 minutes, but we just can’t seem to hold on,” said Byrne of the repeat nature of conceding late on in matches.
“But we have seven games to go and we know that in those last seven games, we’re playing teams that are in and around our level, without showing disrespect to any of those teams. you can talk about Linfield, you can talk about Crusaders, you can talk about Cliftonville, but we’re going to be playing teams that I think are at our level and we have a chance. The boys will dust themselves down, get back at training and it’s important that we’re ready to go on Friday night again because it’s still on our hands. The luck doesn’t seem to be going our way but we’ll be fighting hard to the end.
“Football is totally a mental thing. You’re hoping there today when we’ve got to 85 minutes, just get us over the line. We’re hoping the clock runs down quickly and that we manage the game that bit better. It just didn’t happen.
A pretty tepid opening half hour where the home side were marginally the better of the two teams, gave way to a better last portion of the first period for Newry.
Eleven minutes before the break, Newry went close when Karl Moody’s corner from the left was headed goalwards by Carville only to see the ball cleared off the line by Dungannon’s Kris Lowe.
Then four minutes later, it was Carville again who almost got the opener, when he linked up with Moody to pick the ball up on the left-hand side of the area, before stepping inside two challenges and curling an 18-yard effort just over the bar with Swifts goalkeeper Evan Moran rooted to his line.
Newry carried that upturn in form into the second period and deservedly broke the deadlock on 54 minutes.
Thomas McCann won the ball just inside his own half before playing a superb through ball to set Moody scampering away down the left. He cut inside Lowe and on to his right foot before curling in an inch-perfect cross that was met by Carville. His header seemed to deceive Moran who could only help it into the net as Newry went in front.
They went close to doubling that lead on 66 minutes when Carville got forward again to find Mark McCabe at the edge of the box. He laid it off, back into the path of Moody, but his fierce half-volley flew just over the crossbar.
The home side thought they had levelled two minutes later when Mark Patton played in Daniel Hughes and the Newry native finished past Andy Coleman, but the assistant’s flag had already gone up for offside.
As Dungannon pushed for an equaliser, Coleman came to City’s rescue eight minutes from time when Lowe teed up Hughes, but the keeper made a fine save with his leg to deny his former club their goal.
But four minutes later, that leveller did arrive when Seanan Clucas pulled the ball back to Hughes and his mishit effort bounced to the back post where Paul McElroy was on hand to sidefoot into the unguarded net.
Dropping two points would have been sickening enough for City in their situation, but dropping three was inexcusable, but that was what happened in the final minute of normal time.
Jarlath O’Rourke whipped in a corner from the left and Dungannon sub Johnny Lafferty rose highest in a crowded penalty box to head the ball goalwards and it bounced up into the roof of the net with Daniel Hughes claiming he got the final touch. It was irrelevant who got it as City ended up leaving with nothing.
“We’re without an away point in over two months. The last one we got was on Boxing Day, but we were confident going into the game today,” said Byrne.
“To be fair to Dungannon, they made a couple of substitutions and they seem to be able to bring on better quality from the bench. Maybe that’s something we need to have a think about. We have a small squad and the lack of physicality in our team is definitely an issue because that’s what happens when you get to the last five minutes of a game – the lack of strength and the lack height seems to be a problem.
“The mood is flat, there’s no getting around that, but all through the season we have galvanised ourselves every week, whether it’s been good or bad. The manager has been fantastic at that and the boys will be ready to go this week again. I have no doubt that these lads will put in another performance, but we’ve got to get the monkey off the back now, we’ve got to get a point.
“We got the goal and we were hoping that a clean sheet was there too. We know we have to keep more clean sheets. We’ve emphasised it to the players, but it’s not a defensive thing, it’s a whole team thing that needs to be better,” he added.
City take on Coleraine at home this Friday night (7.45pm), with the Bannsiders the only team in the top flight who have yet to beat Newry this season. Before Saturday, Dungannon were in that bracket along with Coleraine.
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