Finn Harps 1 Derry City 1 (After extra time; Derry win 6-5 on penalties)
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park
DERRY City continue to hold the Indian sign over Finn Harps after the Candystripes scored a penalty shoot-out win in a gripping League Cup clash at Ballybofey.
Castlefin man Raymond Foy – who was making his City debut – scored Derry’s eighth kick of the shoot out and Derry’s passage into the next round was sealed when Tommy Bonnar skied his reply.
Shane McEleney and Gary Merritt had penalties saved, but sudden death ensued as Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry McNamee, Michael Duffy and Stewart Greacen netted for City with Sean McCarron, Johnny Bonner, Matthew Harkin and Aaron O’Hagan on the mark for Harps.
The Town End sensed a famous win on the offing when, after Dermot McCaffrey and Shaun McGowan traded kicks, Ciaran Gallagher saved from Simon Madden only for Paul McVeigh to be denied by a post the chance to etch himself into Harps history.
But that wretched record of theirs continues. It now reads just five wins in 59 games, but here was the best chance in some time for blue to beat red in a North West derby.
City had led through a cracking volley from Rory Patterson in the 17th minute, but on the stroke of half time Harps levelled when centre-back Aaron O’Hagan sent a brilliant header past Gerard Doherty after connecting with Johnny Bonner’s teasing free kick.
Patterson’s evening turned sour when he was sent off for a second booking after he was adjudged to have led high on Harps full-back Ciaran Coll in the 75th minute; a decision that clearly had Declan Devine irked at the final whistle.
For the visit of the club that he became a League of Ireland legend with, the Harps manager Peter Hutton was demonstrating clearly that his priorities are firmly concentrated on League matters.
“I’m sure most fans would rather we get promoted or at least have a chance of gaining promotion rather than merely progressing in a League Cup game,” Hutton wrote in his programme notes.
Harps showed eight changes to the team that had beaten Mervue United three days previously to shoot into second in the League table. Ciaran Gallagher, Keith Cowan and Coll were the only survivors in the sweeping alterations that saw Josh Mailey make his debut at right back and Mark Forker come in for a first start of the campaign.
While City, chasing Sligo Rovers in the upper echelons of the Premier Division, made a handful of changes themselves, Declan Devine was able to reinstate players of the calibre of Stewart Greacen, Dermot McCaffrey and Patrick McEleney into his starting XI.
While Harps started brightly, it was the Candystripes who stole the march in the 17th minute.
It’s a goal that won’t replay too kindly for Harps. O’Hagan and Coll both had attempts to clear, but when Simon Madden’s interception fell to Patterson, the Strabane man beat Ciaran Gallagher with an acrobatic, dipping volley from 20 yards.
With Paul McVeigh operating as the sole pivot in their attack, Harps struggled to get any sort of penetration in motion and there were anxious moments for their followers when Gallagher stumbled briefly when collecting a headed pass back from Coll, the ‘keeper gathering just in the nick of time with Madden scampering in.
The attack-minded Madden was involved in a neat passage down the right flank with Patrick McEleney. Madden’s cross was latched on by Patterson, but a sliced effort deflected off the grateful Cowan for a corner.
City were content to keep Harps at arms length and a drilled effort from Matthew Harkin that flew just past the post was as close as they came until O’Hagan superbly headed beyond Doherty for the equaliser in the final minute of part one.
City went within a whisker of regaining the lead 90 seconds into the second half, but after McNamee’s free evaded almost everyone, Shane McEleney ghosted in only to see his glancing header come off the post.
Johnny Bonner tested Doherty’s palms and Greacen headed narrowly wide before Patterson was dismissed with the clock entering its last fifteen minutes.
Harps, and the home support, were energised after the dismissal of the City hitman and Paul McVeigh might have won it, only to have a blistering drive beaten away by Doherty four minutes from time.
In a frenetic finish to normal time, Michael Duffy and Bonner had half chances, but both keepers were equal to their advances.
Duffy was inches away 30 seconds into extra time and sub Mark Griffin almost had Derry ahead, but Keith Cowan managed to clear from a crowded goal line after another of Madden’s trademark surges down the right. The full-back, himself, drilled into the side netting seven minutes from the end after McNamee’s clever footwork provided the opening.
Just when the home followers believed that it could be their night, their dreams dashed into the night sky with Bonnar’s high spot kick, the 16th of a dramatic shoot-out that was in keeping with the night.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Josh Mailey, Aaron O’Hagan, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Matthew Harkin, Mark Forker, Shaun McGowan, Micheál Doherty; Johnny Bonner, Paul McVeigh. Subs: Tommy Bonnar for Forker (82 mins), Gary Merritt for Doherty (90 mins), Sean McCarron for Mailey (97 mins).
Derry City: Gerard Doherty; Simon Madden, Stewart Greacen, Shane McEleney, Dermot McCaffrey; Ryan Curran, Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry McNamee, Michael Duffy; Patrick McEleney, Rory Patterson. Subs: Mark Griffin for P.McEleney (80 mins), Raymond Foy (99 mins).
Referee: Rob Rogers.