Finn Harps 0 Waterford United 2
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park
ON the night he saw his team’s faint hopes of sneaking into the promotion play-offs go up in smoke, Peter Hutton was left to reflect on another night of familiar failings from his side.
They had been bettered by slick Waterford United, who possessed that sharp edge to their sword which Harps so badly crave.
This was a must-win game for a Harps side chasing a deficit that is now out to an insurmountable eleven points. With six League games to go, all they are left clinging to are the hopes of a run in the FAI Cup, with Cobh Ramblers visiting Ballybofey on Friday night, when a quarter-final awaits the victors.
It is a source of great frustration that, with six games remaining, Harps’ hopes of reaching those potentially-lucrative places on the ladder have evaporated.
Harps have scored just 24 League goals this season. Fourteen of those have come from Kevin McHugh or Sean McCarron. Elsewhere, just four players – Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Mark Forker and Michael Funston – have netted for a team that has scored only four times in its last eight games.
Last season, 13 players contributed 40 League goals. In the creativity department, Harps are lacking, but they have also squandered some glorious chances.
Trailing to Ben Ryan’s superb seventh minute diving header, Harps had a perfect chance to draw level late in the first half.
For long periods, it was a Harps side that lacked any sort of fluidity, the best chance of the first half only presenting itself in the 40th minute.
Paul McVeigh did well initially to rob Conor Whittle of possession on the byline. The Fanad native worked his way in, but somehow blazed over the crossbar from six yards.
It was a chance that personified a goal-less season for the lively front man, whose last strike was last September in a 2-0 win over Athlone.
“He should have scored, yeah. There’s no getting away from that. The chance at one-nil, Paul McVeigh’s chance, was a golden opportunity to get ourselves back into the game,” said a rueful Peter Hutton after the game.
“To be fair to him, he worked extremely hard to get himself into the position, but he lacked a bit of a composure a couple of yards out with the goal at his mercy.
“We could have had a few. When those chances present you have to capitalise on them.
“I thought we deserved something but, as has been our Achilles heel, we didn’t take the chances when they presented themselves at critical times in the game.
“You’re not going to win games like that.”
The opener had come in the 25th minute and was a well-orchestrated one. After being released by Furlong, Vinny Sullivan sent in the pin-point cross from the right flank, which Ryan met and superbly dispatched his header beyond Ciaran Gallagher’s reach to the bottom corner.
Ryan fizzed an earlier effort off target, while Furlong flicked a header wide from a great position before Furlong came close to a cracking second, but he volleyed wide, with an awkwardly-hit effort from another tantalising cross by Sullivan.
Waterford had been on life support of late with the Blues close to being wound up in a High Court battle with former boss Stephen Henderson.
A bucket collection ensued, but Tommy Griffin was still able to add considerable talent to his squad and they were comfortable victors here.
In former Cobh striker Conor Meade and on-loan Cork City man Danny Furlong, the now possess a frontline of real threat.
It was Meade who netted the killer second, coolly tucking home a penalty six minutes into the second half after he’d been fouled by Thomas McMonagle. Gallagher guessed to his right, but Meade’s kick was rolled to his left and it was an even stiffr uphill struggle for Harps from here.
Hutton is on a shoe-string budget and it is clearly a source of angst when a rival club can be on the brink of extinction one minute and delving in the transfer market the next.
He said: “Waterford are a decent side and are well organised. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they’ve been able to go out and actually strengthen again, given their resources, wherever they’re coming from, and they’ve signed some quality players like Conor Meade, Danny Furlong, Paddy Barrett and Chindea. They’ve really strengthened their squad, never mind their team.
“They’ve got momentum and have a chance of going up, but I couldn’t care less about Waterford United, to be honest.
Pat McCann was handed a first start for Harps, the American replacing the suspended Mark Forker and it was he who came closest to reviving Harps’ challenge with a brilliant hit effort from distance that seemed destined for the top corner, only for Craig Hyland to magnificently reach out and tip it wide.
McCann had another low volley well held by the unsighted Hyland, while Lee Toland was almost ready to celebrate what seemed would be a tap-in, but left-back Dylan Mernagh thwarted him with a tackle that was as close to perfect as you’ll see.
Waterford maintain their own push for promotion following a well-deserved win, but Harps are left to reflect on that wretched period of seven League games – an entire series, effectively – without a win that has sealed their fate.
The defeat could have been greater but, in stoppage time, Gallagher denied Kevin O’Connor from close range.
Hutton added: “It’s disappointing, of course. We can’t fault our work ethic or endeavour, but it’s disappointing not to get anything out of the game.
“The players can’t afford this disappointment to linger for too long. They have to dust themselves down and get on with it because it’s a massive week on all fronts for the club.”
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Shaun McGowan, Pat McCann, Lee Toland; Paul McVeigh, Kevin McHugh. Subs: Johnny Bonner for McCann (71 mins), Matt Harkin for Toland (78 mins), Shane Buchanan for Funston (84 mins).
Waterford United: Craig Hyland; Conor Whittle, Gavin Kavanagh, Paddy Barrett, Dylan Mernagh; Vinny Sullivan, Ben Ryan, Kevin O’Connor, Philip Droghan; Conor Meade, Danny Furlong. Subs: Francis Rockett for Droghan (66 mins), Alan Quinlan for Furlong (72 mins), Peter Higgins for Meade (84 mins).
Referee: Rob Harvey (Dublin).