Finn Harps 0 Longford Town 1
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park
Photos by Gary Foy
ON A night when Finn Harps failed to trouble the Longford Town goalkeeper, Paul Hunt, a cracking free-kick from Glen O’Connor handed the midlanders a deserved win on Friday night.
Substitute O’Connor’s goal was superbly taken. After Josh Mailey fouled Stephen Rice, the warning lights flashed for Harps as Longford eyed up a breakthrough goal. It duly arrived as O’Connor’s right-footed effort sailed over the Harps wall and beyond ‘keeper Conor Winn right into the top corner.
Just when Harps must have thought they would hold on, they were undone by a magnificent match winner. Longford waited until the 85th minute, yet it was no more than their evening warranted.
Harps managed to go through the ninety minutes without forcing Hunt into a save and the worrying thing for their supporters in a crowd of 350 – not too shabby given the fixture was in direct conflict with the Spain-Holland game at the World Cup – was that their creativity ranked somewhere between little and non-existent.
Only when it was too late did they turn the screw. Deep into added time, Winn joined the attack for a last-ditch free-kick. Ciaran Coll’s delivery fell back out to Kevin McHugh, but the Harps captain couldn’t get the necessary leverage or direction on his shot.
While Harps again defended well and had a solid set-up, with Damien McNulty again standing tall, their rigidity inhibited them when it came to making inroads at the other end. From the wide positions, Harps haven’t been able to get the necessary penetration to trouble opponents and, too often, Ruairi Keating and Kevin McHugh found the supply lines cut off.
It was an emotional night by the Finn. Oisin Merritt, a player with Finn Harps Reserves, sustained serious injuries in the early hours of Monday and remains in a critical condition, in an induced coma, in a Spanish hospital.
After a pre-match moment’s applause, a group of fans from the 54 Crew Finn Harps Supporters Club unfurled a banner bearing the message: ‘# Pray 4 Oisin’.
For the most part, it was Longford who looked most likely with David O’Sullivan to the fore.
In the first half, Longford were on top and O’Sullivan had the best of the chances came his way, the pick of them in the 32nd minute when he connected to a teasing cross from Don Cowan. At the back post, O’Sullivan’s compass let him down at the vital moment, as the striker’s downward header dropping wide.
Ten minutes previously he seemed set to break the deadlock but he lobbed over Winn and wide after beating the caught-in-two-minds Harps ‘keeper who had raced from his goal-line, but lost the race to the Longford man.
Winn – who retained his place despite Shaun Patton returning to the matchday squad having completed his Leaving Certificate on Thursday – did well to thwart O’Sullivan from close range after only three minutes, while the Longford dangerman flashed just over from 20 yards towards the latter end of the half.
It was the visitors who had the more purposeful beginning to the second half, although Rice will not reflect all too fondly on the effort, five minutes in, that screwed well off the target.
Longford could, and should have opened the scoring when Mark Salmon provided Pat Flynn with a chance, but the centre-back managed to head wide. The cross by Salmon was perfect, but Flynn, who wormed free in a packed penalty box, couldn’t steer on target.
Harps – who restored Josh Mailey and Michael Funston to the starting XI – had some good passages without managing to trouble Hunt. Their best move of the first half saw a lung-bursting surge by Josh Mailey conclude with a superb through ball to Ruairi Keating.
Darting between two Longford defenders inside the area, Keating went to ground but the well-placed referee, Ben Connolly, waved way the Harps penalty claims, which weren’t all-too convincing.
It was a rare moment of promise from Harps on the attack, but for large swathes they never looked likely to make the incision in Longford’s skin.
Five minutes from the end, Longford made them pay as O’Connor stepped up to fire a perfect free kick into the River End net.
It brought to an end a five-game unbeaten run for Harps, but Ollie Horgan’s mid-season analysis will take a deeper look at the numbers. Aside from two wins over basement outfit Cobh, they have won just once – a 3-0 away win at Shamrock Rovers B, who then managed to steal a late win at Finn Park.
Above all, though, their offence is in need of a boost from somewhere, with the gap to Longford, in the play-off positions, having swelled to nine points.
Finn Harps: Conor Winn; Packie Mailey, Keith Cowan, Damien McNulty; Caoimhin Bonner, Michael Funston, Pat McCann, Josh Mailey, Ciaran Coll; Kevin McHugh.
Subs: Darragh Black for J.Mailey (87 mins), Gareth Harkin for Bonner (87 mins).
Longford Town: Paul Hunt; Jamie Mulhall, Pat Sullivan, Pat Flynn, Willie Tyrell; Don Cowan, Mark Salmon, Stephen Rice, Kevin O’Connor; Gary Shaw, David O’Sullivan.
Subs: Glen O’Connor for Tyrell (34 mins), Peter Hynes for Cowan (68 mins).
Referee: Ben Connolly (Dublin).