Finn Harps player-manager Peter Hutton has warned his players of the dangers of end-of-season complacency as third-placed Longford Town come to Finn Park on Saturday night (kick-off 7.45pm).
After 10 games unbeaten, Hutton’s side lost their last two outings - a 2-1 reversal at the hands of Waterford United in their penultimate home outing and then a surprise 2-0 loss at the hands of table-croppers SD Galway last weekend.
That result, coupled with Wexford Youths’ win over Athlone Town, means the Ballybofey side will finish the season in fifth place.
“I don’t accept mediocrity and some of the lads perhaps subconsciously switched off and it wasn’t good enough,” Hutton said. “We challenged the lads after losing the weekend before and after making a decent enough start to the game, got complacent.
“It was one of the most disappointing performances of the season. It was very poor, especially since going into the game the chance of finishing in fourth place was still a realistic goal.
“Some might think it’s near the end of the season, but for us, the management team, we’re already planning for next season and there’s some players we are still making our mind up on. A manager can learn much more about a team or a player in defeat than he would in a winning run, which can paper over the cracks.”
In the last week, Harps secured two-contract extensions of James Doherty, Aaron O’Hagan and Gary Merritt; adding to Ciaran Coll, who also signed a two-year deal, and Paul McVeigh, who penned for one.
“It’s been well documented that we have considerable financial constraints here at the club,” Hutton added. “Nobody will make a fortune playing for Finn Harps but we’ve five of the lads signed up already and we’re in talks with a number of others.”
Longford’s third place is guaranteed, which means they will take on runners-up Waterford United, after Limerick FC clinched the title last Friday, in a two-legged play-off semi-final.
Then, whoever progresses from that particular duo will then face the bottom team in the Premier Division, almost certainly Dundalk as they trail Bray Wanderers by nine points with only three games to play.
Harps and Longford have enjoyed a curious sequence of results with one another this season - not one point has been picked by whoever has been the home team.
In April, Harps inflicted Longford’s first loss of the season when they left Flancare Park with a 3-1 win, with Paul Simon Tracey, Thomas McBride and Blain Curtis on the scoresheet after Alan Kirby’s opener.
Then, in June, that result was reversed when Karl Bermingham, Gary Shaw and Colm James bagged goals for the visitors at Finn Park, with Matt Harkin scoring for the hosts. Harps then won 1-0 in the midlands in August when Kevin McHugh was on the mark.
With their play-off looming, Tony Cousins’ team were beaten in each of their last two fixtures - 2-1 against SD Galway and then 2-0 against league champions Limerick.
Hutton feels Longford will not want that run to stretch out to three before their altercation with Waterford and feels his team will be in for a difficult match come Saturday.
Coll and Harkin are back from suspension and from the squad that played in Galway, only Adam Clarke, with a thigh strain, is a doubt.
“Longford are a decent side and in Tony Cousins they have a shrewd manager,” Hutton said.
“They’re up there challenging for promotion and are an experienced and physical team, who aren’t afraid of mixing it up, and one that can be a handful from set-pieces. But we want to put last week’s disappointment to bed and finish the season on a high.”