Finn Harps 2 Salthill Devon 0
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park
MARK Forker’s brace ensured that Finn Harps returned to winning ways tonight.
The Dungloe man netted a goal in each half as Harps defeated ten-man Salthill Devon, for what was only their second win in ten games.
For long periods this was unconvincing, but that will not have troubled manager Peter Hutton a great deal – and in fairness his side was never in any great danger. The arrival of Forker’s second goal rid the game of any doubt.
In his programme notes, the manager wrote: “This is the period of the season when results are upper most and performances are secondary. It’s now all about getting points on the board.”
The points on the board tonight mean that Harps are eight points adrift of Waterford United, who occupy the second play-off spot and who visit Ballybofey next Friday to begin the final series of matches.
Forker opened the scoring with a superbly-hit volley in the seventh minute and when he burst through to slot home in the 64th minute it was game, set and match as Salthill had midfielder Willie Enulebe dismissed on the hour when he caught Kevin McHugh with a wreckless elbow off the ball.
A crowd of barely 200 attended this one, including controversial former Harps manager Patsy McGowan, who watched proceedings from the press box.
With Micheál Doherty suspended, Harps boss Peter Hutton handed a first full start to Lee Toland, a former Newcastle United trainee who signed from Kildrum Tigers in the Ulster Senior League.
Toland cut an influential figure on the left channel – and had a hand in the opening goal.
Toland popped a throw-in to the edge of the box to Forker, who smashed a brilliant volleyed effort from 20 yards past James Keane for the lead goal; a fine way for the midfielder to grab his first goal of the season.
Paul McVeigh had a couple of chances to double the lead – and to bag what could have been his first of the campaign too.
First, the Fanad man had a crisp low show that fluttered just wide. Later, the striker really should have done better when slipped in behind by Toland. His shot was too close to James Keane, who turned behind for a corner.
Salthill, without looking razor sharp, managed to give Harps some anxious moments in the first half, not least when Conor Barry and Craig Harding exchanged a clever one-two with the former’s shot saved by Gallagher.
Earlier, Gallagher was forced into a save by Dan Cunningham, younger brother of Irish international Greg.
Cunningham was withdrawn at the break, presumably injured as he had been Salthill’s brightest light in the first half.
Another inch-perfect Toland delivery picked out Michael Funston four minutes into the second half, but he was off target. A minute later, full-back James Doherty burst onto a loose ball, but saw his well-struck effort saved by the agile Keane at full stretch.
Enulebe’s moment of madness proved costly for Salthill, who fell further behind when Forker broke through, holding off a series of Salthill players before firing home to seal the deal.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Shaun McGowan, Mark Forker, Lee Toland; Paul McVeigh, Kevin McHugh.
Subs: Aaron O’Hagan for McMonagle (74 mins), Pat McCann for Funston (78 mins), Sean McCarron for Toland (84 mins)
Salthill Devon: Evan Preston Kelly, Robbie Gaul, Alex Byrne, Colm Horgan; Dan Cunningham, Jason Murphy, Willie Enulebe, Craig Harding; Conor Barry, Danny Campion.
Subs: Oscar Sibanda for Cunningham (half-time), Shane O’Rourke for Murphy (74 mins), Marvin Lunga for Campion (82 mins).
Referee: John McLoughlin (Athlone).