Shimna College, Newcastle was the setting for this league encounter between these two County Down NAFL Division 1B rivals. As the season end approaches each of the two teams had different agendas, the home team needing a win to secure vital points in their quest for promotion whilst the visitors needed the security of at least one point to avoid being dragged into the relegation dog fight. The Seasiders will not have underestimated their opponents however as they had only lost once in their previous twelve games and have one of the best defensive records in the division. Both teams fielded without key players with Newcastle missing Phillip Bonny to injury while United were without Dalton Tate for a similar reason.
The visitors had the advantage of a strong wind in the first half and they enjoyed considerable periods of pressure whilst defensively their back four of Miller, Majury, Hayes and Brashaw coped well with the home attack in which Matt Smyth and Conor Gribben were prominent.
United main attacking threat was through Stuart Hunter whose mazy runs caused lots of problems and his link up play with Matthew Shaw and Aaron Cheevers was a constant problem for the Newcastle backline of Holland, Allister, McCarthy and Fitzsimons.
In the 34th minute Hunter weaved his way through the Newcastle penalty area and was upended by McCarthy and the referee awarded a spot kick which was despatched by Alex Millar despite the efforts of Wayne Lennon in the Seasiders goal.
As half time approached a long ball out of the United midfield was latched onto by Gavin Crawford, who had been the victim of some rather harsh treatment prior to the taking of the penalty, and his headed pass fell into the path of Matthew Shaw who shot past the advancing Lennon to make it 2-0. It is possible that Shaw was in an offside position but the move was so swift that the referee could not have been close enough to get a clear view either way.
The United midfield of Carberry, Wilson, Crawford and Hunter were dominant in the closing minutes of the half with Shaw and Cheever’s movement causing all kinds of problems and it took several quality saves from Lennon to keep them out.
As expected Newcastle came out in the second half with great purpose and with the wind in their backs their intentions were clear as Travers, Moone, Collins and Gribben chased every ball in an effort to get decent service to their forwards however the United defence was resolute.
The more Newcastle pressed the more vulnerable they were at the back giving the visitors occasional openings and how the referee didn’t give a penalty when Hunter was tripped in the 50th minute will remain a mystery.
Bryan McMullan in the United goals had very little to do in the first half but in the second half he made several excellent saves and dominated his penalty area as corner after corner or free kick was launched from every conceivable angle however aided and abetted by Hayes, Majury, Miller and Brashaw allied to a willing midfield they stood strong.
The introduction of Newcastle substitutes Tim Sexton and Ciaran Brannigan gained them more and more possession and it was Brannigan who almost scored in the 80th minute when he stole in on the right wing and was unlucky to see his shot cannon of the far post for a goal kick.
United manager Keith Hamilton introduced David Kelly to the midfield and cousins Gareth and Ian McMullan to the forward line and all three could have scored with Kelly heading onto the crossbar and both Gareth and Ian missing decent chances when put clear on goal.
This was an excellent game with both teams playing their part however United were worthy winners and a team resolute to ensure that they would not throw away the 2-0 they had worked so hard to gain in a replica of what happened at Millbridge in August in the reverse fixture.