FINN HARPS SHAMROCK 0 ROVERS B 1
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
BY the end, it had become a mixture of disbelief and despair for Finn Harps.
It was scarcely believable as Harps and their manager, Ollie Horgan, watched Stephen Confrey’s 82nd minute cross-cum-shot slip away from goalkeeper Sean Patton to give Shamrock Rovers B a victory pulled straight out of the first chapter of smash-and-grab.
Patton was making his first start of the season and it was a harsh conclusion for the young Letterkenny man, making his first appearance of the season after being preferred to Conor Winn. For the previous 81 minutes, Patton was a peripheral figure in the tale of the night, with the youthful Rovers B string offering nothing by way of a threat.
Patton seemed assured and Harps looked solid, although they weren’t under any strain until that moment, eight minutes from the end, when Confrey let fly and Patton was horrified as the ball slipped from his gloves and crept in at his near post for an unlikely winner.
At the time, Harps were reeling from the sending off of Packie Mailey, the centre-back given his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card as a result of a collision with Hoops goalkeeper Shane Fagan. Mailey had earlier been booked for chopping down Confrey and, as fate would have it, Mailey was barely back in the sanctuary of the dressing room when p.a announcer Kevin Duffy confirmed Confrey as the goalscorer of the night’s first, and only goal.
Mailey’s red cards means another suspension for Harps, their fourth already this term, the Convoy man set to follow Keith Cowan, Josh Mailey, Thomas Bonnar and Keating in serving a ban.
Horgan’s side had struggled in the creativity department of late and there were again signs that inventiveness was in short supply. With Ruairi Keating as the foremost prong in a 4-5-1 formation, Harps didn’t force too many openings altogether, although it was they who did have what chances were notable.
The bare statistics now relay a particularly worrying summary for Harps, who have not won in their last six outings, taking just two points from a possible eighteen in that spell and have now just one goal, a penalty by Keating against Wexford, in their last five. A look over their shoulder has only Cobh Ramblers, their opponents at St Colman’s Park next Saturday (following a League Cup game at Galway FC on Monday), beneath them in the standings.
Harps had shaded a drab contest and the pick of their chances fell to Sean McCarron. The second half was in its infancy when Michael Funston’s superb pass put McCarron in on goal. With space at a premium, McCarron got a deft touch on it, but his effort hooked just over Fagan’s crossbar at the Town End.
McCarron was presented with another chance 17 minutes from the end, but the striker appeared caught in two minutes as he went to connect with a long deliver from the right channel. The Derryman’s connection was wayward, opting for foot rather than head, and the chance gone.
Horgan, in the wake of a two-nil away loss at Waterford United the previous week, promised change and the manager was true to his word. Patton was given a start in goal, Keating returned from injury to spearhead the attack and Thomas Bonnar saw himself restored to the midfield with James Doherty and Mark Forker dropping to the bench.
Twice in the opening six minutes, McCarron tried his luck, but two effors missed the target. His first, after only 19 seconds, screwed well off cue, but his next was a better attempt that flew just over the angle of post and crossbar.
Pat McCann warmed Fagan’s palms, but the Rovers goalkeeper was equal to a powerful 19th minute effort while the Rovers custodian did well to hold onto a daisycutter from Harps’ American midfielder as a poor first half drew to a close. McCann went close again in the second half, but his header from Caoimhin Bonner’s searching cross was too close to Fagan.
Shamrock Rovers B, the newcomers to the First Division, had a slow start to their first campaign in senior football but, with two wins in three games, they came to Ballybofey hopeful of an upset. On the back of a 3-1 home win over Cobh, they etched a slice of history on Friday night by claiming their first League win outside of Tallaght Stadium.
While it was by chance rather than design will be of little consolation to Harps whose own concerns now run deep ahead of three away games on the spin. Their next home game is against the League pacesetters, Shelbourne, in three weeks’ time.
The match-winner here will have been painful for Patton, who had little else to trouble him over the 90 minutes, for Horgan, whose side is in desperate search of a smile from Lady Luck, and for the shell-shocked supporters, whose silence at the end was both deafening and a illustration of their shock.
They did have a late, late chance of an equaliser but Ciaran Coll’s downward header from Carel Tiofack’s corner was cleared from the line. The last, long blow of John McLaughlin’s whistle brought a cold shudder around the old ground with consolation only perhaps from the fact that the Division remains a congested below Shelbourne, the leaders.
FINN HARPS: Shaun Patton; Caoimhin Bonner, Damien McNulty, Packie Mailey, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Josh Mailey, Thomas Bonnar, Sean McCarron; Pat McCann; Ruairi Keating. Subs: Carel Tiofack for Funston (70 mins), Gareth Harkin for J.Mailey (78 mins).
SHAMROCK ROVERS B: Shane Fagan; Corie Tracey, Conor Dunne, Michael Kelly, Alan Kehoe; Stephen Confrey, Jack Watson, Ryan Doolin, Kevin Knight; Daniel Purdy, Emeka Onwubiko. Subs: Mark Sanford for Onwubiko (85 mins), Richie Purdy for Watson (90 mins), Nathan Brown for Kelly (93 mins).
REFEREE: John McLaughlin (Athlone).