Finn Harps 3
St Patrick’s Athletic 2
By Frank Craig at Finn Park
An excellent effort from Finn Harps this evening in Ballybofey helped secure another vital win as their bid to avoid the relegation/promotion play-off spot continues to gather momentum.
Harps had squandered an early two-goal lead after Adam Foley and Stephen Folan had both found the net inside the opening quarter of an hour.
But with the home side continuing to be ambitious, their bravery paid off 16 minutes from the end when Ryan Connolly netted the winner from the spot.
Harps went into tonight’s clash with St Patrick’s Athletic with the intent of closing the gap on the Saints at the tail end of the Premier Division.
Ollie Horgan’s men’s excellent 2-0 win away to Bohemians last time out made sure they would avoid the drop automatically with Cork City now relegated.
The aim going into this clash for the Ballybofey outfit was to drag the other vulnerable sides immediately above them, notably Shelbourne and Pat’s, into bother in their final three games.
The visitors had the first effort on goal seconds in but on a difficult surface Mark Anthony McGinley dealt easily enough with Georgie Kelly’s dragged effort.
On three minutes the hosts made the breakthrough. With Luke McNally hesitating in possession, the alert Foley nipped in and rattled in a superb finish.
In a frantic opening, Jordan Gibson nearly bent one into the top corner of the Harps’ net but it just went the wrong side of the upright.
On 11 minutes things got even better for the home side. A deep Tony McNamee throw-in wasn’t dealt with by the visiting defence and with David Webster knocking it back across goal, the arriving Folan bundled home from close range.
Less than two minutes later and Pat’s had pulled one back. An uncharacteristic mistake from McGinley – as he looked to come for a corner – allowed McNally to atone for his earlier error and nod home.
24 minutes in and a stinging half volley from Mark Coyle was spectacularly tipped up and over by visiting stopper Brendan Clarke.
Harps, to their credit, continued to push and nine minutes from the break Mark Russell’s fierce drive on the wide right of the box had to be pushed onto the post by the alert Clarke.
On 40 minutes it took a last ditch stop from Folan, five yards off the home goal line, to deny Pat’s parity when McNally’s volley bounced back off the Harps’ man’s midriff.
There were calls from visiting boss Stephen O’Donnell for a penalty but those remonstrations were immediately waved away.
Eight minutes into the second-half and Harps coughed up a second when Robbie Benson wasn’t closed down out wide and his delivery to the back post was headed home by Georgie Kelly.
Approaching the final 20 minutes Ollie Horgan threw veteran Raf Cretaro and Ruairi Harkin into the mix in a bid to find a winner.
On 72 minutes the host were desperately unlucky not to take the lead for a third time on the night. A fine dart down the left seen Folan get to the byline but his low square was turned over the crossbar by the stretching Foley.
Two minutes later and the wily Cretaro engineered the chance for Harps to snatch the lead once again when he went down inside the area after contact of sorts was made by Rory Feely.
Ryan Connolly was the man that took on the responsibility from the spot, ramming the ball straight down the middle as Clarke fell to his left hand side.
Five minutes out from the end and Harps should have made sure of things when Cretaro cutely slipped Connolly in. Despite showing a clean pair of heels, the latter’s low shot was stopped by Clarke and the rebound cleared by Lennon.
Two minutes into the allocated six of injury time, Connolly then beat the offside trap on the wide left. He also evaded the attentions of the out-rushing Clarke and managed to get the ball back across goal.
Substitute Adrian Delap looked like he was going to arrive at just the right moment but an excellent recovering tackle by McNally thwarted the Harps replacement at the very last moment.
Still, it mattered little as Harps dug in right to the end and held on to nail another crucial three points to the Premier Division board.
Finn Harps: Mark Anthony McGinley; Shane McEleney, Kosovar Sadiki, Stephen Folan,; Dave Webster, Tony McNamee, Gareth Harkin, Mark Coyle, Mark Russell; Ryan Connolly; Adam Foley.
Subs: Ruairi Harkin and Raff Cretaro for Coyle and McNamee (68 mins), Sam Todd for Foley (80 mins), Adrian Delap for McEleney (83 mins).
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ray Feely, Luke McNally, Lee Desmond, Shane Griffin; Chris Forrester, Jamie Lennon, Robbie Benson; Jordan Gibson, Georgie Kelly, Jason McClelland.
Subs: Billy King for McClelland (62 mins), Darragh Burns for Gibson (77 mins), Ben McCormick for Griffin (88 mins),
Referee: Robert Harvey.