Finn Harps 1 Wexford Youths 3
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
THERE are nights that leave you baffled – and then there there’s this one.
A bizarre beginning saw a wheelbarrow of sand come to the rescue of a game Harps somehow lost by two goals.
For most of the night Harps peppered Wexford, but it was Shane Keegan’s men who took the win having barely threatened for much of it.
Danny Furlong gave Youths the lead in the 20th minute when his free kick from the edge of the wall took a wicked deflection off the wall, wrong-footed Ciaran Gallagher to find the back of the net.
When Andrew Mulligan headed Conor English’s cross past Gallagher in the final minute of the first half, Harps had it all to do.
Kevin McHugh brought them back into it with a 61st minute cracker to tee up a potential comeback, only for Mulligan to put the game beyond the reach of the hosts, who have now lost successive games.
This was one when the 1,000-or-so inside Finn Park left scratching their heads, though – just as they’d done upon arrival.
It was eight minutes before the appointed kick-off time before the referee, John McLoughlin, actually gave the go-ahead for the fixture to be played.
Many seasoned attenders were of the opinion that Finn Park hadn’t appeared in better condition for a considerable time. To the bemusement of everyone in the venue, the match official held a different viewpoint.
Accompanied by the FAI’s match delegate, former League of Ireland referee Paul Deering, McLoughlin instructed Harps officials and the reluctant groundstaff to sand divots at the River End.
“You could put your whole heel into some of them – it was very dangerous underfoot,” Deering explained to this newspaper.
Harps fashioned a couple of early chances, but couldn’t trouble Graham Doyle in the Wexford goal.
McHugh, presented with a memento pre-match having made his 400th appearance against Athlone Town last weekend, riffled just over after five minutes.
The captain was restored to the starting XI in one of two changes from the team which lost to Athlone – Harps’ first League defeat of the campaign – and the Killea man drilled off target having latched onto the rebound after Matthew Crossan’s free came off the wall.
Against the run of play, Harps fell in arrears when Furlong’s free found its way past Gallagher.
Harps looked certain to draw level just after the hour when Michael Funston – another who was elevated off the bench – drilled over a low cross and McHugh, lurking at the back post, had the ball taken from the toe of his boot by the alert Craig McCabe.
Finn Park was stunned when Mulligan headed across Gallagher and into the far corner for a second, but Harps showed plenty of fight thereafter.
Harps were a whisker away from equalising in stoppage time, but Tony McNamee hit the crossbar and his own follow up summed up Harps’ night, rebounding off Funston, inches from goal.
McNamee went close again, eleven minutes into the second half, when his first time attempt flew just over after McHugh’s clever touch teed up the in-rushing Ramelton man.
Earlier in part two, Wilfried Tagbo tried his luck twice, but fired wide before heading Ciaran Coll’s cross at Doyle.
Harps were enriched when McHugh’s stunning right-footed effort from the edge of the ‘D’ flew to the top corner.
Just when there was a growing sense that Harps were about to hit back they were caught napping as Mulligan swept Furlong’s cross to the roof of the net.
Substitute Garbhan Friel was denied by a fine save from Doyle, who plucked his header off the top shelf to seal a win for Wexford, who lost Conor English to a second yellow card a minute from the end.
Harps remain top of the table, but there are now just two points separating the Division’s top three teams as the League takes its mid-season break. Time for a collective breath all round.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Josh Mailey, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Matthew Crossan, Tony McNamee, Gareth Harkin; Kevin McHugh; Wilfried Tagbo. Subs: Regan Donelan for Crossan (half-time), Garbhan Friel for Mailey (71 mins).
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle; Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Steven Last, Lee Grace; Conor English, Peter Higgins, Craig Wall, Andrew Mulligan; Aiden Keenan, Daniel Furlong. Subs: Ryan Delaney for Higgins (61 mins), James Darmody for Mulligan (90 mins).
Referee: John McLoughlin