Seventh heaven for Newcastle in Border Cup walkover past Groomsport
Border Cup 1st round - Groomsport 0 Newcastle 7
Seven is seen as a lucky number by many, but not for Groomsport, who succumbed to their seventh straight defeat of a testing campaign on Saturday.
Seven is also the number of goals a lively Newcastle side put past the North Down villagers in this one-sided Border Cup opening round encounter.
Three of those goals came from Donal Acton, who is setting his sights on making this his most successful season to date.
The towering 26-year-old stated: “The best I’ve hit so far is 24 in a season, but this year, I want to hit 30-plus. I think it’s a realistic target.”
On the evidence of his weekend showing at the Meadows, there is no reason to argue with him, and if anything, he may even be annoyed with himself for not adding further to his tally on this occasion.
Yet if the club’s assistant manager Damian McLaughlin was pleased with his prolific number nine, he was even more satisfied with his team’s clean sheet.
He said: “We were always going to be a potential scalp for Groomsport, and we were without a few guys today, including the manager Ciaran Brannigan, due to outside commitments. So I was really happy with our attitude.
“They are going through an unfortunate run at the moment, but you still have to beat what’s in front of you. I told the boys at 3-0 at half time that we had to keep the clean sheet, and they made sure that they went out there and did that. It showed why having a big squad is so important, and we all train together as a club, so everyone knows the shape and the set-plays.
“The last couple of seasons, our priority has been promotion and not worrying too much about the cups, but we finished third twice. This season, we want to win each game and get as far as we can in all the competitions. Winning is a habit that we want to get into.”
Newcastle were the undeniable favourites for this game, as regular contenders for the Division 1B title, while 1C basement club Groomsport are rebuilding with a new manager and almost entirely new squad following a mass exodus in the summer.
And while the underdogs held their own for the first 15 minutes, and played the offside rule to promising effect in this time, it all began to crumble as soon as they conceded that crucial first goal.
There seemed to be some confusion between two home defenders as an accurate long-ball from Brian Fitzsimons, as they called for keeper Ryan James to come, allowing Gavin Moore to lob effortlessly for the opener.
James did, however, respond well as the ball went straight up to his defensive third again from the restart, diving instinctively to keep out a wicked David McKenna drive.
In the 25th minute, the roles for Newcastle’s first goal were reversed, as Moore delivered a pinpoint corner to the back-post, with Fitzsimons popping up to head in their second.
With such an early cushion, the visitors began to play with much more freedom, and Acton showed great technique to tee himself up for a long-range volley. The strike was clean, but the finish was just wide of the mark.
Acton was at it again soon after this, playing a neat one-two with David McKenna before launching a stinging effort, which James did well to keep out.
However, the link-up play of McKenna and Acton did pay off with five minutes to the break, as the latter ended a move between the pair with a fine strike into the bottom corner.
Groomsport were so close to giving the half time score-line a different complexion, as Kurtis Hanna headed powerfully from a Jordan Mills ball, but Wayne Lennon somehow tipped it off the line to keep that clean sheet intact.
The village side returned for a nightmare start to their second half, conceding within 40 seconds of the whistle. Tim Sexton caught the defence napping with an incisive pass to Donal Acton, who made no mistake.
Acton was keen to wrap up his hat-trick, but successive headers from Danny Young and Conor Hayes crosses went over and into the keeper’s arms.
But the striker was instrumental in Newcastle’s fifth goal in the 69th minute, threading unselfishly across to give Chris McCann a simple tap-in.
The wind was up, and this was beginning to look like a breeze for the men from down the County Down coastline, as David McKenna kicked himself for contriving to scoop over from a few yards, despite being unmarked from Moore’s cross.
With 78 minutes on the clock, Tim Sexton powered his way through to thread the ball under James for the goal his afternoon’s endeavour deserved, while Acton showed a deadly combination of power and skill to shrug off his marker and post home his third and Newcastle’s seventh goal.
For Newcastle, it was very much job done. Or at least it was, after Lennon got the faintest of fingertips to a 35-yard strike from Mills to ensure a good day for his side at both ends of the field.
“It’s been a tough start,” admitted Groomsport boss Stuart Killen. “We’ve lost seven, but played Nortel and Newcastle – two sides in leagues above us – and the others were against the top five in our division.
“We have games coming up against teams were we will hope to pick up points, and I think we will, sooner rather than later.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Donal Acton (Newcastle). Hat-trick hero and could easily have scored more.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The moment that Newcastle scored their first on 17 minutes seemed like the moment the outcome was sealed.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Plenty to choose from at both ends, but Wayne Lennon’s save from Kurtis Hanna’s header near the end of the first half was probably the best.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: The mix-up in the Groomsport defence that led to Newcastle’s first goal.
Ryan James: Not the worst you’ll see from a keeper who concedes seven. 5
Rhys Conn: Work-rate was there at least. 5
Ally McIntyre: Uncertainty and indecision were costly. 4
Josh Hanna: Too many touches, when a simple clearance would suffice. 4
Jack King: Overall, timed his challenges well. 6
Gareth Caldwell: Wasn’t his day. 5
Jordan Mills: Looked capable of making a difference. 7
Ian Spence: Remained positive in his approach throughout. 6
Adam Donnan: Some promising moments, worked hard in the final third. 7
Kurtis Hanna: Not without chances, though possession could have been better. 6
Stevie McIntyre: A real battling display. 7
Carl Miller: On for Caldwell, 53
Daniel Jones: On for S McIntyre, 59
Glenn Johnston: On for A McIntyre, 77
Wayne Lennon: Maybe not his busiest day, but brilliant when called into action. 8
Conor Hayes: Quick to the ball. 8
Danny Young: Good positioning. Good positioning. 7
Brian Fitzsimons: A goal and an assist – top stuff. 8
Gareth Scannell: Found his team-mates well. 7
Des McCartan: Well organised at the back. 7
Gavin Moore: Superb movement, both on and off the ball. 8
Chris Maginn: Had a quietly efficient afternoon. 7
Donal Acton: A real handful for the opposing defence. 9
Tim Sexton: Provided good cover for the defence. 7
David McKenna: Eye-catching link-up play. 8
Aidan O’Neill: On for McKenna, 82
Barry Dagens: On for Young, 87
Belfast Telegraph Digital