FINN HARPS 1 (McHugh pen 80′)
REPORT COURTEY OF extratime.ie
A Kevin McHugh penalty with 10 minutes remaining was enough to see off Shelbourne and maintain Finn Harps’ five-point lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League First Division in Ballybofey .
Ollie Horgan’s side have been miserly in the concession stakes and although the Harps manager would’ve been content with a seventh clean sheet in eight outings this term, it was a contest that was made up of a succession of half-chances. Just like when the teams met at Tolka Park on the opening night of the season, it looked like it would end without a goal.
Without the suspended Wilfried Tagbo, who was sent off in the 1-0 win at Wexford Youths six nights’ beforehand, Harps didn’t look they had the bite to seal the three points in front of the 964 who paid their way through the gates.
However, captain McHugh held his nerve from 12 yards to score the only goal of the game – his 180th for the club he debuted for in 1998 – after Raymond Foy was brought down. Shelbourne appealed vociferously to referee Rhona Daly.
Beforehand, the closest either side came to a goal was when Gareth Harkin, the Harps winger, was alert enough to clear off his own goalline after Craig Walsh got an inventive flick – when he let the ball go under his standing foot and swept it with his heel on the instep – from a corner from Mark Sandford on 50 minutes.
While the visitors certainly had the best chance, the hosts had more of them. However, although Greg Murray in the Shelbourne goal saw a handful of efforts fly wide and over of his post and crossbar, he didn’t have to overly stretch to keep his sheet clean for long spells. Ironically, when he finally was beaten, it was when Shelbourne were enjoying their best period of the game.
Harps’ last two goals – Keith Cowan in the 1-0 win in Athlone and Thomas McMonagle in Wexford – have come from their centre-halves and with that in mind, Cowan was the first to chance his luck when he drove wide of Murray’s post on six minutes after a squared ball from Josh Mailey.
Foy was next to have a go, in his case testing the visiting goalkeeper, when set-up by Ruairí Keating. Shelbourne’s first opening came on 11 minutes when Walsh, who was on the left-hand side cut in on his right foot only to shoot across Ciaran Gallagher’s goal.
Brian McGroary almost caught out Murray with an overhit cross on 17 minutes, only for the netminder to scamper backwards and, at a stretch, tip over. Harkin then put in a dangerous ball, zipping along the grass in the Shelbourne penalty area, only for Murray to again get the important touch.
Harps went close again on 25 minutes when Cowan headed inches wide after a cross from Josh Mailey, who chased down a half-cleared corner-kick. Six minutes before half-time, however, a fluffed clearance from Ciaran Coll almost deceived Gallagher, only for Cowan to lump the ball away with Walsh sniffing about. Right on the half-time whistle, McHugh engineered an angle for himself but again the shot was marginally wide.
The pattern of the first half was apparent as the second began to take shape with Keating skipping into space and having a go. The Sligo Rovers loanee’s shot went the wrong side of the post and parity remained.
Shelbourne manager Kevin Doherty had to plan without a number of players, with Simon Dixon, Dave Ryan, Alan Kehoe and Jack Brady all absent for one reason or another. But his team were coping well on the face of things. At the other end, Keating passed up on a good opportunity when he shot wide at the near post after being played in by Harkin following a clearance that Murray didn’t get near enough purchase on.
Harps were untidy in the second half and Shelbourne threatened a little more from the occasional break as the good spell of weather finally cracked. Fourteen minutes from time, the Drumcondra team didn’t crack as McHugh brought a bit of noise to the home support but his turn and shot was just a yard too high.
It looked as though the breakthrough would never come. When it finally did, it came from the most familiar of sources.
Finn Harps:Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Brian McGroary (Regan Donelon 44), Josh Mailey, Raymond Foy, Gareth Harkin (Michael Funston 70); Kevin McHugh (Matthew Crossan 83), Ruairí Keating.
Subs not used:Tommy McCarron (gk), Ger O’Callaghan, Garbhan Friel, Tony McNamee.
Shelbourne:Greg Murray; Adam O’Connor, Paul Andrews, Sean Heaney, Evan Osam; Gareth Coughlan, Jake Donnelly (Philip Hughes 82), Colm Crowe, Craig Walsh, Conor Earley (Dylan McGlade 67); Mark Sandford.
Subs not used:Eric Donnelly (gk), Daire Doyle, Ryan Robinson, Jordan Keegan, Alan O’Sullivan.
Man of the match:Kevin McHugh (Finn Harps).