FINN HARPS 1 ATHLONE TOWN 2
BY AIDAN O’DONNELL AT FINN PARK
ATHLONE Town picked up their first win in Ballybofey since October, 1992 and consigned Finn Harps to a third consecutive defeat on another frustrating night at Finn Park on Saturday.
The worrying trend of conceding from set-piece situations continued as goals from Stephen Relihan and Brian McCarthy either side of a Kevin McHugh strike badly exposed Harps’ defensive frailties.
Relihan pounced to head his side into the lead on twenty-eight minutes, but the hosts were left bitterly aggrieved with the manner in which it arrived.
Defender Brian McCarthy headed an effort wide of the target without anybody getting a touch on the ball, but referee Conor Fitzgerald somehow awarded a corner, which Relihan then got on the end of after the Harps defence failed to clear.
McHugh showed his predatory instincts to take advantage of a defensive mix-up for Athlone before coolly slotting past goalkeeper Pat Jennings just five minutes into the second half.
But McCarthy made amends for his defensive blunder that led to Harps’ goal by powering home the winner from a Garbhan Broughall corner twelve minutes later.
Harps have now conceded eight goals in their last three games and despite their attack boasting the third best return in the league, an overly charitable rearguard has stunted any potential progression.
Last week’s demoralising 3-0 defeat away to struggling Mervue United, unsurprisingly, led to a string of changes in personnel for the visit of Mike Kerley’s side to the northwest.
Thomas Bonnar, Aaron O’Hagan, Ciaran Greene, Gary Merritt and Hugh Carlin were all drafted into the starting line-up at the expense of James Doherty, Peter Hutton, Blain Curtis, Paul Simon Tracey and Adam Clarke, who didn’t feature because of a hamstring injury.
Shane McGinty, who started last week in Galway, retained his place and was one of the better performers for the Twin Towns outfit.
The young St. Johnston man forced an excellent save out of Jennings early on with a sweetly-struck effort from twenty-five yards, while Damien Rushe wasted a brilliant opportunity for the visitors, the midfielder lashing wide following a neat through-ball by Noel McGee.
Athlone then edged ahead in controversial circumstances as referee Conor Fitzgerald adjudged McCarthy’s header to have taken a touch off a Harps player before it crossed the whitewash.
And from the resulting corner by Broughall, Relihan was on hand to prod home from a matter of yards after the Harps defence failed to clear their lines.
Blain Curtis, an early replacement for the injured Hugh Carlin, was then afforded a brilliant chance to draw Harps level just a minute after going behind.
However, with just the goalkeeper to beat, the striker crashed his effort onto the outside of the post in what was the only real clear-cut chance of the first half.
Five minutes after the restart, McHugh capitalised on a moment’s hesitance between McCarthy and Barrett before keeping his composure to fire beyond Jennings, the son of the former Arsenal and Northern Ireland legend who shares the same name.
Parity was only restored for twelve minutes, though, as the towering McCarthy climbed highest from another teasing Broughall corner and his downward header somehow managed to squirm its way through a mass of Harps players assembled on the line.
Midfielder Shaun McGowan had Harps’ best chance of an equaliser late on, but his effort drifted the wrong side of the post as Athlone held on to record their second win over Felix Healy and Peter Hutton’s side this season.
Finn Harps: Rory Kelly; Thomas Bonnar, Aaron O’Hagan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Greene; Gary Merritt, Shaun McGowan, Hugh Carlin, Shane McGinty, Ciaran Coll; Kevin McHugh. Subs: Blain Curtis (Carlin, 10 mins), Paul Simon Tracey (Coll, 70 mins).
Athlone Town: Pat Jennings; Niall Scullion, Tommy Barrett, Brian McCarthy, Ross Kenny; Garbhan Broughall, Stephen Relihan, Damien Rushe, Jason Hughes; Brian Gill, Noel McGee. Subs: Darren Coleman (Rushe, 71 mins), Shaun Geurins (McGee, 75 mins), Kevin Williamson (Gill, 86 mins).
Referee: Conor Fitzgerald.