Newry held firm to secure a draw with the Whites in the promotion/relegation first leg at New Grosvenor.
It was a scrappy game of few chances and City keeper Gareth Buchanan easily saved an early Pat McShane strike.
Darragh Hanaphy's cross eluded the outstretched foot of Newry's Mark Hughes while Gary Liggett failed to connect from a Whites corner.
Liggett's second-half lob fell just over the bar and the sides will meet again at the Showgrounds on Friday.
With a place in the Premiership at stake, it was no surprise that the first half was a nervy affair devoid of flowing football.
Hughes and Liggett were both inches away from scoring while Newry midfielder James Hand curled a free-kick just wide after 59 minutes.
Liggett squandered the best chance of the game five minutes later, latching on to a long ball from Sean McCashin before sending his chip over the advancing Buchanan but just over.
Distillery pressed in the final minutes but a resolute Newry side withstood the pressure and they hold the edge with home advantage in the second leg.