Two second half goals from Kevin McHugh was enough to give Finn Harps both points at home to SD Galway in Finn Park on Friday night.
Finn Harps 2
SD Galway 0
The Harps skipper broke the deadlock on 63 minutes with a close-range effort before sealing all three points for the home side with a second from the penalty spot five minutes from time.
The visitors, who had offered a stern resistance before the first goal went in, ended the game with ten men after David Meehan’s illegal intervention that led to McHugh’s second goal saw the SD Galway man receive a straight red card.
With Aaron O’Hagan and Tommy McBride both ruled out through suspension, Harps were given a welcome boost beforehand with Tommy Bonner passing a fitness test to start in the middle of the park alongside Shaun McGowan.
SD Galway – Salthill Devon in a former guise – had failed at eight previous attempts to defeat their counterparts from Donegal and have only managed the one win all season in what has so far been a thoroughly disappointing campaign for Tony Mannion’s side.
A cagey first half yielded very little in the shape of goal-mouth action, with both goalkeepers enduring a relatively stress-free opening 45 minutes.
Harps were the more commanding but a well organised SD Galway rearguard restricted the home side from converting their territorial advantage into shots on target.
Paul McVeigh headed narrowly wide from a James Doherty cross early on, while Brian Geraghty forced a fine point-blank save out of Ciaran Gallagher, following a perfectly-weighted through ball from Ronan Conlon.
McHugh then had his first sight of goal on 20 minutes, the Harps striker heading just over the bar from a Gary Merritt cross, following a timely intervention from Tommy Bonner on Timmy Molloy.
Harps continued to control most of the first half but James Keane managed to get to the break without having to pull off a save of any real significance, although a 25-yard effort from McGowan was only inches away from finding the bottom corner.
Harps began the second half strong and James Doherty almost found the top corner with the first attack after the restart – the full-back latching onto a loose clearance by the visiting defence before rifling a thunderous volley over the woodwork.
Moments later and the hosts dissected the SD Galway defence courtesy of a cushioned through ball by McVeigh to release McHugh.
The striker timed his run to perfection and although he managed to beat the onrushing Keane, full-back Eugene Greaney arrived in the nick of time to produce the timeliest of blocks.
Having threatened with a series of corners in the early stages of the second half it was no surprise to see the deadlock broken from another of Merritt’s expertly angled dead-balls.
Paul McVeigh did well initially to win the corner and from the resulting delivery by Merritt, McHugh was perfectly placed to guide home a Thomas McMonagle flick on from close range.
Matt Harkin then went agonisingly close to adding to the goal he got against Waterford United last week with the sweetest of connections from a Merritt corner.
SD Galway responded with a brief flurry but a deflected Mike Harty shot from distance that drifted just wide of the post was the closest they came to finding an equaliser.
In fact, from that same phase of play, Harps doubled their advantage following a quick throw out by Gallagher to release McVeigh. With Harkin racing through on the overlap, the former Fanad United man opted for a lofted ball over the top to McHugh, who was prevented a clear run on goal by the outstretched hand of Meehan.
The second-half replacement received a straight red card by referee Rob Harvey before McHugh stepped up to rifle home his second of the night and ninth of the season.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Paul McVeigh, Shaun McGowan, Tommy Bonner, Gary Merritt; Matt Harkin, Kevin McHugh.
Subs: Adam Clarke (Merritt, 75 mins), Ryan Curran (McVeigh, 88 mins), Cathal McDaid (Harkin, 89 mins).
SD Galway: James Keane; Eugene Greaney, Paddy Quinlan, Cian Fadden, Ronan Conlon, Willie Enubele, Mike Harty, Timmy Molloy; Brian Geraghty, Jakub Tomanica.
Subs: David Meehan (Greaney, 70 mins).
Referee: Rob Harvey.