Institute FC 0-0 NCAFC

Nine times out of ten a draw away to the league leaders would be an acceptable result. However, for Newry City, Saturday’s match against Institute might just be that one game where the win was allowed to slip away especially after the odds swung in Newry’s favour when with only 6 minutes on the clock Institute midfielder Aaron Harkin was shown a straight red card by referee Gareth Stewart for a two footed lunge on Decky Carville. Inevitably that brought about a change in the home sides tactics, Institute setting up defensively with two banks of four with the challenge put up to Newry to break them down. In the end Newry failed to break through but they had their chances. The home side had the odd chance as well, mostly on the break. Indeed they carved out a fine chance shortly after the sending off, Warner Mullen releasing Ronan Wilson, John Boyle using his strength and experience to force Wilson wide from where he failed to trouble Steven Maguire.

With Institute retreating into their own half Newry enjoyed lots of possession but hindered by a bumpy surface not suited to their passing game it took until the 20th minute before they got sight of the Institute goal, the Hughes brothers combining on the left wing creating an opportunity for Mark, his shot deflected narrowly wide. Newry’s patient passing looked set to pay dividends shortly after the half hour mark, the visitors working the ball wide on the right paving the way for Mark McCabe to drill a low cross into the box. With Mark Hughes unmarked behind him Carville cleverly stepped over the ball only to be cut down by the crudest of tackles by Ryan Morrow, the referee without hesitation pointing to the penalty spot. Unfortunately for Newry a protracted protest against the decision delayed the spot kick and when Jimmy Walker was eventually allowed to take the penalty he was denied by a fine diving save from Martin Gallagher.

It was Gallagher who ended Newry’s final chance of the half in less conventional circumstances, a perfectly judged diagonal ball from Ruairi Cunningham taking out the home defence and with Stephen Hughes about to latch onto the ball once again Gallagher intervened, leaving his penalty area to get to the ball before Hughes and head the ball clear. Just like the first half Institute were the first to trouble either keeper in the second. albeit in fortuitous circumstances, an aimless cross which looked likely to sail high and wide was caught by the strong breeze, the ball coming down dangerously close to the Newry goal line where Maguire calmly collected.

And similar to the first half Newry responded by dominating possession but again failed to find that incisive pass to open the home defence, Institutes keeper only troubled by a shot from outside the box from Stephen Hughes which the keeper shovelled around his post. With Newry camped in the Institute half there was to be a moment of controversy after 75 minutes when the home side won possession and punted the ball into the Newry area, Boyle forced to block the run of Institutes Gareth Brown, fortunately far enough away from the Newry goal to limit the referee’s response to a yellow card. With time running out Newry almost snatched all three points. First Carville with a clever back heel found Marty Havern in space at the back post, Havern’s low shot beating Gallagher but not the covering Bonner who cleared from the goal line.

Newry kept turning the screw and had one final chance. Walker picking out Boyle at the back post, the centre half blasting his shot on target bringing a fine reflex save from Gallagher who was perhaps a little fortunate to push the ball onto his post to ensure the points were shared. After the game Newry manager Darren Mullen pondered on the point gained “A draw away to the league leaders would normally be welcome as a decent result but the way things panned it there is a sense of disappointment. To play against 10 men for the vast majority of the game and also miss a penalty feels like we missed a great chance to close the gap on them. When the dust settles we may well look back on it as valuable point because I’m sure there will be plenty of twists and turns between now and the end of the season. In terms of our performance we didn’t do enough to test their keeper and our play was too predictable at times. When you have that extra man you need plenty of movement and options to trouble their defence but that didn’t happen. In fairness they were well organised and made it very difficult for us. The positives from it are that we haven’t conceded in our last 4 games which is a boost for us going into what will be a very difficult game at Windsor Park next Saturday. Whilst we know Linfield are clear favourites we will go there with absolutely no fear and are relishing the chance to test ourselves against the holders.”

Next up for Newry on Saturday 3rd February is an Irish Cup tie against Linfield at The National Stadium, Belfast, kick off 3pm. Tickets for the match and also for a seat in a travel club bus (leaving at 1pm from the Stonebridge), if desired, will be on sale at The Showgrounds from Monday through to Thursday night from 8pm to 9pm.

Click on the link to listen to Manager Darren Mullens interview on BBC Radio Ulster speaking about our upcoming trip to Windsor Park. (3 hrs30min)

Then on Tuesday 6th February Newry City play Glenavon at The Newry Showgrounds in The Mid Ulster Cup Final, kick off 7:45pm.