Newry City 1-2 Cliftonville
Cliftonville narrowed the gap on league leaders Larne to keep any feint title challenge alive with a 2-1 win over Newry City at the Newry Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon.
It looked to be the familiar story of another frustrating Saturday in March that had yet to see the Reds gather a victory in the month until Ryan Curran smashed home with little under 10 minutes remaining.
Curran’s strike was the third in a five-minute spell after Ronan Hale broke the deadlock and Donal Scullion hit back and looked to have salvaged a share of the points for the hosts.
In the end, the Solitude side hung on to claim their first win of the month and boss Paddy McLaughlin insisted the three points were all that mattered in a tricky afternoon.
“The win was all that mattered,” McLaughlin insisted.
“The conditions and you also have to remember that the opposition are fighting for their life and scrapping for every header, every pass and every tackle. You’ve got to control that, and the pitch obviously didn’t suit any of the two sides in playing nice football.
“We knew how hard it was going to be to come here. The league position when you’re fighting for your life doesn’t matter - every point is precious to you. We knew it was going to be really difficult and Newry proved that.
“They were hard to break down, well organised and well set up. Our boys, fair play to them, they stuck with it, they kept plugging away, got the lead, lost their lead and then regained it again. It takes a lot of character to do that.
“They could have let their heads go down when we conceded the equaliser, but they refused to give up on the three points and found another gear. Fair play to them, they dug out a second goal and thankfully that proved to be the winner.”
𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐒𝐏𝐋𝐈𝐓.— NI Football League (@OfficialNIFL) March 25, 2023
Big names 👀
Even bigger games ahead 🔥#DanskeBankPrem pic.twitter.com/G4yia863cq
McLaughlin made five changes from their injury-time implosion to Dungannon Swifts last weekend.
Among those returning to the starting eleven was captain Chris Curran, whilst Odhran Casey came back in after suspension and Aaron Traynor after an injury layoff.
Newry created the first-half chance within three minutes as Philip Donnelly tried to slip in John McGovern, though Nathan Gartside was out quickly to smother.
At the other end, Ronan Hale cut inside at the by-line and tried to pick out David Parkhouse, but Darren King cut out the danger at the concession of a corner that come to nothing.
Hale was one of Cliftonville’s prominent threats in the opening half and on the quarter-hour mark he skipped by numerous challenges and fed McDonagh in the wide position, but McDonagh’s cross was dreadful.
Midway through the half, Noel Healy clipped in a high ball to Dale Montgomery whose header towards goal was claimed by Gartside.
Hale shot wide of the post after Parkhouse chested the ball down in the midfield and then shot at Newry ’keeper Steven Maguire after being teed up by Ryan Curran.
Thomas Lockhart should have done better when a few yards of space opened up, though he fired high over the bar.
A Donal Scullion corner kick caused momentary panic towards the end of the half and the hosts’ prodigy Scullion shut out a Ronan Hale opening at the other end within 60 seconds as the half ended scoreless.
Cliftonville tried to up the ante after the restart as Ronan Hale got his head onto David Parkhouse’s long throw, though Maguire held on.
Older brother Rory curled a free kick wide of the target before Ronan saw an effort blocked down by Darren King on the hour mark.
Newry were a threat on the break and John McGovern watched in frustration as his pass across the box evaded a telling touch from striker Bamidele Adeyemo.
Rory Hale fired high over the bar and the visitors’ best chance fell with 20 minutes remaining as Chris Curran provided a pinpoint cross for Joe Gormley whose effort crashed off the underside of the bar.
James Teelan almost made an immediate impact at the other end as the ball bobbled through, but Jonny Addis stuck out a foot and cleared the imminent danger.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, Cliftonville made the breakthrough. Chris Curran provided a cross from the right that Ryan Curran flicked on for Ronan Hale to swivel and shot low into the corner past Steven Maguire for his 26th goal of the season.
The Reds’ defensive vulnerabilities would surface again as Newry hit back. The hosts forced a corner, and the resulting set piece was met by Ryan McGivern, his header deflected off Adeyemo and Donal Scullion swooped to stab the loose ball home.
Paddy McLaughlin’s side showed character and regained the lead on 81 minutes. Rory Hale played a delightful diagonal pass that Joe Gormley headed down for Ryan Curran and he thumped the ball through the legs of Maguire and into the net to make it 2-1.
City manager Darren Mullan was dismissed in the aftermath of the goal for allegedly kicking a water bottle and his side were unable to fight back for a second time as Cliftonville claimed their first win at the Showgrounds in 12 years to cement third spot heading into the league split and crucially cut the gap on league-leaders Larne to keep their very slim title ambitions alive.
NEWRY CITY: Maguire, King, N Healy, McGovern, Lockhart (Lusty 86’), McGovern, B Healy (Teelan 70’), Donnelly, Scullion, Montgomery, Adeyemo (Carville 79’).
CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, C Curran, Casey, Turner, Traynor (Coates 88’), Gallagher, McDonagh (Gormley HT’), Rory Hale, R Curran, Ronan Hale, Parkhouse (Addis 65’).
REFEREE: Tim Marshall