Newington FC U17s welcomed North Belfast rivals Loughside to the Grove last Saturday for their first BEAYL game of the new campaign.
Newington were without team captain James Burrows who looks set to miss the start of the season through injury. Kevin McCloskey, Richard McTasney and new signing Patrick Boyd were also missing from the squad.
Newington started strongly, dictating the pace of play from the early stages. Full-backs Daniel Kelly and Stephen McVeagh were impressive in carrying out both their defensive and attacking duties, while Cory Gilmore and Darren Fitzsimons were causing havoc on the flanks.
Brendan Clarke and Stephen Fitzsimons quickly settled into their central defensive roles and Mark Kelly and Chris Begley orchestrated great passages of play in the middle of the park throughout the half. Up top, Shane Magee and Paul Campbell combined well; fashioning goalscoring opportunities for eachother.
Newington's early dominance payed off after 10 minutes. Gilmore's cross from the right found Magee in acres of space and the young Newington man made no mistake, coolly slotting the ball into the net.
Moments later, Newington found themselves two goals up. Magee was again involved as Paul Campbell beat the off-side trap before skillfully lifting the ball over the Loughside ‘keeper.
Newington's lead was further increased soon after. Mark Kelly showed great skill to break through a wall of defenders before finishing his solo effort off with a low drive.
Time remained for the Ton to add to their lead in the first half. Stephen Fitzsimons pounced from close range as Loughside failed to deal with a corner.
Ryan Gibney almost found the net from an acute angle moments into the second half. However, Newington did increase their advantage in the next phase of play. Kelly showed great drive to chase down a loose back-pass and poke home from inside the area.
As the hour mark loomed, Campbell scored two goals in quick succession to secure his first hat-trick of the season.
With 15 minutes remaining a momentary lapse of concentration in the Ton defence resulted in Loughside scoring their first and only goal of the encounter, a rocketing shot from the edge of the area that left Steven McElevey with no chance.
Newington's Begley responded with a goal of his own. Latching onto Kelly's through-ball before rounding the keeper and firing home.
With the end of the game approaching Newington were unlucky not to add another goal to their tally. Gibney was brought down inside the box, but Campbell's penalty was well-saved by the Loughside ‘keeper.
Managers Patrick Duffy, Michael Curley and Brian Burns will take great encouragement from the win as they go about preparing for a tough game against Larne Youth at the Grove this coming Saturday (10.30 kick-off).
NFC U17: Steven McElevey, Daniel Kelly, Brendan Clarke, Stephen Fitzsimons, Stephen McVeigh, Cory Gilmore, Chris Begley, Mark Kelly, Darren Fitzsimons, Paul Campbell (capt), Shane Magee, Declan Fitzsimons, Ryan Gibney, Michael Neeson
Man of the match: Campbell