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Report: Finn Harps let the lead – and promotion hopes – slip

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Finn Harps 2 Wexford Youths 2

By Chris McNulty at Finn Park

THE lights have all but gone out on Finn Harps’ chances of sneaking into the promotion play-offs after Ollie Horgan’s side played out a thrilling stalemate with Wexford Youths on Friday night.

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One of the more entertaining games at Ballybofey this season had everything, but a tenth draw of the season means that Harps surely have too much to do to mount a challenge.

They are seven points away from Galway FC who occupy third place, but with eight games remaining this season it appears as if their hopes have faded.

This was another finger-biting and hair-pulling night for Finn Park frequenters. They led twice, through goals by Josh Mailey and Kevin McHugh, but a stunning strike from Ben Ryan and a 77th minute penalty by Danny Furlong ensured that Shane Keegan’s Youths departed the Twin Towns with a share of the spoils.

Harps had a penalty of their own, but McHugh uncharacteristically blazed his effort off target. It came just five minutes before Furlong hit the decisive second equaliser for the visitors after Keith Cowan’s needless pull on Gary Delaney.

Harps finished with ten men as Caoimhin Bonner saw red in the 86th minute. Having already been booked for dissent just moments previously, Bonner flicked a hand downward in the direction of the grounded Craig Wall.

Fourth official Michael O’Connor drew the attention of referee Simon Rogers and he pointed to the clubhouse, brandishing the ninth red card of the season to a Harps player, Bonner’s second following his dismissal against Galway in May.

Cowan, Josh Mailey and Michael Funston were all restored to Horgan’s starting line-up having returned to the squad from suspensions and Mailey wasted no time in announcing his arrival back on the prowl.

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There were only 95 seconds ticked on the watch when the Letterkenny man scored a fine opening goal.

Mailey made a strong burst from deep to open up the possibility. Having played a quick give-and-go in the ‘D’ Mailey’s finish was exquisite, finding the top corner of Graham Doyle’s net for his first goal of the season.

Horgan this week predicted Wexford to be firmly in the promotion shake-up, going as far as to say that they’d give Galway ‘a scare’ for third spot. At times here it was easy to see why. Keegan has a well-drilled side, comfortable on the ball and easy on the eye to watch.

Their equaliser, in the 16th minute, was a cracking strike. Mailey, after his early heroics, will wince when he sees it, though, His stray pass in the middle of the park was seized upon by Gary Delaney, who made the chance for Ryan and his right-footed shot from 25 yards gave Conor Winn no chance.

It was a text-book finish by the Wexford attacker and was the rare sight of a goal from open play being conceded by Harps – it was the first, in fact, since an own goal by Ciaran Coll against the same opposition at Ferrycarrig Park in May.

Wexford are on the periphery of the play-off positions themselves and their intent was clear during the first half.

Harps survived when a Ryan free-kick flashed into the box, Ryan Delaney just failed to get a touch and the alert Winn palmed away.

In the closing minutes of the half, Wexford went close again, but Eric Molloy shot narrowly over after Andy Mulligan’s graft created the chance.

Ryan Delaney headed just over for Wexford at the outset of the second half, but it was Harps who began to grow in confidence.

Gareth Harkin was denied by Doyle, who made a fantastic save, down low at his near post on point-blank terms after the Harps midfielder connected with a terrorising cross by Sean McCarron.

Harkin was now playing in a more central position and his greater comfort was evident. It was he who laid the assist on for McHugh’s 57th minute strike to put Harps back in command.

Harkin’s pass was inch-perfect and McHugh’s finish, high into Doyle’s net, was similarly precise. It might only have been his second of the season, but his 173rd in all for Harps felt as if it might prove significant.

McCarron and McHugh warmed Doyle’s palms before Molloy had a cross-cum-shot deflected inches over.

Twenty minutes from the end came a glorious chance for Harps to bury the game. Harkin’s enterprising pile driver came back off Shane Dunne and assistant referee Darren Carey was quick to call the handball. Rogers pointed to the spot.

In these situations, the mortgage would usually feel safe being passed to the bookmaker, but McHugh’s body language didn’t exude that confidence and his kick was unfamiliar, high and off target to Doyle’s left.

Five minutes later, after Cowan needlessly barged Gary Delaney over, Wexford had a chance from twelve yards themselves. Furlong made no mistake, crisply converting to Winn’s right and levelling for the second time.

At either end Peter Higgins and McCarron drilled teasing crosses across the goal-face with both sides determined to get a winner. Harps’ hopes weren’t helped when, four minutes from the end, Bonner made the long walk.

There were still anxious times. Furlong came closest to winning it, but struck the top of the crossbar. Right at the end, Harkin burst onto a loose ball and while he managed to get a toe poke on it, the fairytale finish didn’t materialise.

Finn Harps: Conor Winn; Caoimhin Bonner, Packie Mailey, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Josh Mailey, Damien McNulty, Gareth Harkin; Sean McCarron, Kevin McHugh.
Sub: Brian McGroary for Funston (77 mins).

Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle; Killian Cantwell, Gary Delaney, Stephen Last, Ryan Delaney; Peter Higgins, Shane Dunne, Andy Mulligan; Eric Molloy, Ben Ryan, Danny Furlong.
Sub: Craig Wall for R.Delaney (72 mins).

Referee: Simon Rogers (Dublin).

Drogheda United came from behind to claim the spoils in Finn Park.

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