Stephen Hughes Newry City

Newry City’s Stephen Hughes won’t thank me for his being first sub for the latest Player Watch as I looked vainly on the team sheet for Stefan Lavery. Nonetheless, it proved an inspired on the spot decision as I have always thought the Hughes brothers have always had a bit about them in the Irish League.

Sometimes in doing this exercise, you tend to challenge yourself as to a player’s contribution in a match since you are spending so much more focus on your subject. Nevertheless, Stephen Hughes not only appeared to be busy but was well up to his neck in activity to use a colloquialism. This was due to his position, attitude, intelligence and work ethic. Sitting just behind the main striker most of Newry ‘s attacking threat came from him and most of that came from his own foraging.

He sat in the middle of a three in a 4-2-3-1 formation and had a very quiet start to the game. The ball didn’t come anywhere near him and it was no surprise when he started to drop a bit deeper for the ball. At the same time, it should be said there wasn’t a whole lot of football being played by either side as decent passing and ability to hold the ball were only idealistic rather than actual features of the game.

It was nearly five minutes into the game when he got hold of the ball with a simple pass and then following up for the return was crowded out by Glentoran’s Kane and Pepper which sounds like some sort of retribution rather than a central midfield duo. In this maelstrom of general loose play, it was no surprise when he picked up a ball just outside the opposing penalty area, advanced and released a left-foot drive. Whilst on target it looked as if he hadn’t caught it cleanly but nevertheless, goalkeeper Morris made a bit of a mess of it and the shot nearly ballooned up and over into the net. But Hughes had made his mark as a threat finding the space and wherewithal to get an attempt on goal on his rap sheet.

His position meant that his colleagues were having difficulty getting the ball forward to him as opponents Conor Pepper and Marcus Kane were buzzing around busily. He was vocal to his colleagues with directions and appeared to be the offensive leader on the pitch and I would suggest with good reason. As mentioned he did not waste his energy and clearly gave thought to how deep he should drop for the ball and when to make runs forward. He did pop up on the left touchline occasionally but was, by and large, aware of the team’s shape.

He is a natural recipient for throw-ins having the ability to take the ball under pressure and also one could see what his plan was upon receiving the ball. I felt this bravery to take the ball throughout the game in tight areas was admirable and he stood out in this respect. Frequently he positioned himself at the apex of player triangles to move the ball faster to create openings for his team and clearly has a good football head on him.

Be it movement to try and move Glentoran players around or trying to reach scraps or knockdowns in the penalty area I felt he always showed an overt and as well as latent threat.

Not the most physically imposing player he managed to get on the end of a cross into the box but was unable to get his header on target but nothing wrong with his appetite. This was reinforced with a deep run into the right-hand channel to give Conall Delaney a forward target.

I liked the way he made hay from a colleague’s poor control to maintain a move with a lofted ball out to the left and this theme of generally being never far from anything good in Newry’s play was recurring. Defensively he worked back well to prevent Marcus Kane build up a head of steam with a very decent tackle. I felt he has a lot of licence from his manager to move around as he has a great sense of where and when to be on a pitch. He might have been disappointed with himself for a poor clearing pass all the same when helping out his defence which ultimately led to the first Glentoran goal. Bill Shankly always used to monitor any goal’s genesis back to the last defensive mistake.

He is not the fastest either but he is alert and can sense mistakes and was often first to the ball following poor Glentoran passing. He sometimes lost out physically due to his size in the midfield hurly-burly but again this was due to his looking for work to help out his team. More often than not though he knows how to use his body to shield the ball and has clever enough feet to get out of trouble. Throughout his defensive shifts, he was happy to gamble on runs forward, sometimes with product and sometimes not but I suggest his work ethic is a great inspiration to his team.

He is happy to travel with the ball as and when and is always looking for a positive outcome. By and large, his team were always climbing a tough mountain but anything good was still coming from his probing and willingness to take responsibility. His colleagues need to reward him for this bravery by always being on hand to provide options which was not always the case. He picked up a loose header from Calum Birney and snatched a bit at it with his right foot leading to a goal kick but again he was alive to such eventualities. He might have been lucky to avoid a booking bringing down Herron having been on the wrong side of him but the tenor of the game allowed this space  I believe from the referee.

He was getting caught in possession a few times towards the end of the game but such is the number ten’s lot as you try to make something happen. Be it Barry John or Joe Montana, the playmaker’s load down the years can be a lonely spot sometimes, especially when you are being beaten far from home on a Friday night. Right to the end, he was still trying to make things happen with a good ball down to the right and it was unfortunate for him that his best chance for reward was spurned as his penalty hit the left-hand post.

He should be proud of his night all the same as he more than stood out for me and whilst he is in their side playing with such hunger and ability, Newry should have confidence for the months ahead.