NIFL Championship

Newington 2-2 Ballyclare Comrades

A bright start and an early Gary Warwick goal gave Newington and their fans hope of clinching all three points in their league clash against Ballyclare Comrades on Saturday afternoon. 

However, two headed goals just before half-time from the visitors looked as though the Ton’s unbeaten run of three was about to come to an end. 

A well-struck second-half penalty from defender Eamonn Hughes meant it was honours even at Solitude; in a match where Newington will have felt they had done more than enough to clinch the win. 

This missed opportunity was further compounded by results taking place in the east of the city, as relegation rivals Institute took all three points on the road away to bottom of the league Knockbreda. A result that sees the Derry side leapfrog Newington in the league table, with Dergiew falling into the relegation play-off spots on goal difference. 

Despite the bright and energetic start from the home side, it was goalkeeper Nathan Kerr who was almost the one picking the ball out from the back of his net within the opening five minutes. 

Confusion between the young goalkeeper and centre-back Kevin Bradley almost saw the defender’s header loop into his own net. 

Moments later and both sides’ strikers were presented with their first opportunity of the match with both opportunities, rather remarkably, mirroring each other. 

Some fancy footwork from either side’s number 15 followed by a pinpoint cross onto the head of their respective number 9’s, only for both strikers to glance their header wide.

As Newington were inching further and further up the pitch, the opening goal seemed inevitable. 

Ballyclare were limited to counter-attacks, with the few opportunities they had being arrested in the early stages by young Paul Donnelly, who was being deployed at left back in the first half, and not for one second looking out of place. 

A throw-in on the left wing for Newington saw the ball bounce at the feet of Darren Stuart, who swivelled beautifully and delivered a precision cross-field pass on the half-volley to right-back Joshua Diver. 

The full-back had the composure to lift his head up and drive a low cross into the lone Newington man who had managed to wander into the box, Gary Warwick. 

The midfielder’s first touch was perfect, setting himself up beautifully to accurately stroke the ball into the bottom left-hand corner and give the home side the lead. 

Despite a few half chances for the visitors, the first half was going perfectly for the Ton. 

However, as the interval drew nearer, Paul Hamilton’s men, perhaps desperate just to get to half-time with their lead still intact, were retreating deeper as the minutes ticked by. 

This pragmatism from the home side, conscious or not, only served to invite Ballyclare on more and more, and three minutes before the half, Newington were punished. 

An inviting cross from a Ballyclare free-kick was begging to be headed in, and striker Darius Roohi did not need a second invitation. 

The Ballyclare man headed home from close range to grab his third goal in four matches and draw the visitors level just before half-time. 

If the Ton seemed eager to protect their one-goal lead before, they were now verging on desperate not to fall behind. 

The organisation and energy that had seen them dominate large parts of the first half had completely dissipated. Ballyclare could smell blood and were now chasing a second. 

If conceding one goal before half-time wasn’t enough to leave Paul Hamilton furious, minutes after their first Ballyclare grabbed a second to add a few extra decibels to the Newington manager’s half-time team talk. 

Once again, a beautifully flighted ball was delivered into the home side’s box, only this time it was defender Conall McGrandles turn to rise highest and punish a static Newington defence, who at this stage were desperate for the half-time whistle. 

Referee Glenn Buchanan answered their prayers and sounded for the interval, which couldn’t have come at a worse time for visitors Ballyclare.

Changes both at half-time and early in the second half appeared to give Newington a much-needed new lease of life. 

Left-back Jack Reilly’s energy and vision in the final third was beginning to cause more and more problems for the Ballyclare defence, who hadn’t seemed to learn any lessons from their counterparts in the first half, as they themselves began dropping deeper and deeper, despite the protestations from goalkeeper Declan Breen. 

Just when it seemed that Newington (whether it be by misfortune, great defending or indecisiveness in the final third), wasn’t going to find an equaliser, a lazy leg from Ballyclare defender McGrandless gifted the Ton a penalty and a way back into the match. 


Warwick, who initially had the ball in his hands, eventually passed the responsibility on to January signing Eamonn Hughes. 

The central defender made no mistake from the spot, and calmly slotted it into the bottom right corner. 

This goal capped an excellent performance from the defender, who was not only flawless in his defending throughout, but used his experience and voice to coach those less experienced around him. 

Minutes from the final whistle and substitute Tiarnan McNicholl should have secured all three points for the North Belfast side. 

A free-kick delivered to the back post was headed back into the danger area by Darren Stuart who had the simple task of poking the ball home from two yards out. 

The forward, much to the dismay of the home fans, couldn’t get his feet sorted in time and allowed goalkeeper Breen to clear the ball out for a corner kick. 

The result, Newington’s third 2-2 draw in as many games extends their unbeaten run to four. 

They go into the split just outside the relegation play-off spots on goal difference, with five cup finals for Paul Hamilton’s on the way in the coming weeks.

NEWINGTON: N Kerr, F Brennan, K Bradley, R Gowdy (M Gorman 74’), C Burns (T McNicholl 83’), G Warwick, D Stuart, M Morgan (P Downey 62’), E Hughes (P Slane 74’), J Diver (J Reilly 46’), P Donnelly.

Goals: G Warwick 13’, E Hughes 73’.

BALLYCLARE COMRADES: D Breen, C McGuinness, O McConville, C McGrandles, L Hassin, D Roohi, C Gilmour, I Fletcher, C Ferris, G Donnelly, H Adair (A McMurtry 74’).

Goals: D Roohi 42’, C McGrandles 45’.

REFEREE: Glenn Buchanan