Irish Premier League: Crusaders v Newry City AFC (today, Seaview, 3pm)
By Andy Watters
WITH three wins on-the-trot behind them, Newry City travel to north Belfast to meet fourth-placed Crusaders in a rich vein of form.
Darren Mullen’s side showed admirable character to avenge a 3-0 loss against Ballymena by beating the same opponents 3-2 just three days’ later and they’ve built on that win with a 4-1 success against Carrick Rangers and, on Tuesday, a 2-1 victory over Loughgall to progress to the final of the Mid-Ulster Cup.
Their treble, coupled with Crusaders’ surprise mid-week home loss to Ballymena have conjured up optimism that a rare win over a top six side is in the offing for Newry but Mullen is well aware of the task facing his side at Seaview.
“We’re on a decent run of form and we’ve been playing well,” said Mullen.
“I asked for a reaction after the Ballymena game and thankfully the lads have stood up to that challenge and it’s a credit to them because we’re missing important players so everyone has had to muck-in and they’re doing that.
“But we know Crusaders away is a tough proposition. We haven’t taken any points off the top six yet and that’s something we need to rectify hopefully we can do that this weekend.”
Kym Nelson’s late goal meant Ballymena carved out a 1-0 win over Crusaders on Tuesday night and leapfrogged Newry into ninth in the process. Crues’ boss Stephen Baxter will demand better from his team – who were 2-1 winners when they travelled to the Newry Showgrounds in late August – this afternoon.
“I’m sure Stephen wasn’t happy after that result (against Ballymena) and he’ll demand a reaction,” said Mullen.
“We need to make sure we’re ready for that because playing against the top six is very difficult and we need to be on it and we need to work really hard to get something out of it. We’ll take the confidence (of the three recent wins) into it but we know that the minute we stop working then we’re going to get punished.
“But we’re looking forward to it, we’re holding our own at the minute and we just need to build on that.”
Newry will be without John McGovern (groin injury) until next month and Lorcan Forde and Daniel Hughes (injured) and Ciaran O’Connor and Declan Carville (suspended) are also ruled out. However, Jamie Clarke returned to action on Tuesday night and youngsters Brian Healy, Donal Scullion and James Teelan have all stepped up for the county Down side.
“Early in the season we were playing well without getting results,” said Mullen.
“I didn’t want that; I didn’t want to get plaudits but not points. We’ve tightened things up and worked harder defensively as a team and we have started to take our chances.
“We’ve scored seven goals in the last two games so hopefully that vein of form can continue.”
Elsewhere this afternoon, Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon will hope to build on their 3-1 win at the Coleraine Showgrounds in August when they host the county Derry outfit at Mourneview Park.
The Lurgan Blues beat Glentoran 2-1 last week but fell short against Linfield last Saturday. Odhran Kearney’ Coleraine are four points above them, sixth in the table.
Meanwhile, with a single point to show for their efforts after 15 games, Portadown travel to Carrick Rangers on a horror five-game scoreless run. Carrick could move up to seventh win three points.