Finn Harps were left licking their wounds following their agonising loss to Derry City on Monday night but can put themselves firmly in the promotion frame with a win at Wexford Youths on Friday (kick-off 7.45pm).
Peter Hutton’s side were desperately unlucky to lose against their rivals in the second round of the EA Sports Cup on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra-time.
Former Derry captain Hutton made eight changes to the side that had defeated Mervue United by a goal to nil three nights’ previously thanks to a sublime volley from Sean McCarron. But even against a vastly superior Derry team, on paper at least, Hutton’s youngsters certainly let nobody down.
Aaron O’Hagan capped a fine personal outing with the equalising goal to cancel out Rory Patterson’s opener, while Johnny Bonner, Paul McVeigh, debutant Josh Mailey and Mark Forker all played their way back into the manager’s thoughts.
“We played very well, especially when you consider we made eight changes,” Hutton said afterwards. “Those eight were made up of a lot of a lot of lads who didn’t have a lot of first team experience. A few of them were on their last legs at the end of normal time but they were exceptional.
“There’s a few that are really hurting in there. That says a lot. It’s good that it does hurt but that’s football. Sometimes it hurts. You have to remember these low points. Hopefully we can put this at the back of our heads by the end of the season.”
Hutton’s team selection, maintaining only Ciaran Gallagher, Ciaran Coll and Keith Cowan, showed where his priorities lie this week. Harps’ league form is good, having defeated the two sides that were ahead of them in the last fortnight - Longford 3-2 at Flancare Park and then Mervue by a goal to nil at home.
Those two results mean Harps have hop-scotched past Johnny Glynn’s team into second spot and with Mervue welcoming Longford to Fahy’s Field on Friday night, something has to give.
“We have to draw a line under Derry as we’re out of the League Cup and have to move on,” Hutton added. “It’s Wexford now and as the cliché goes, the next game is always the most important one. We like to move the ball about and get it down and play so hopefully Wexford’s pitch will suit us in that regard. We’ll look forward to it to get the chance to lift the spirits.”
Michael Funston will return from suspension having been forced to watch the Derry encounter from the sidelines.
Kevin McHugh, who was booked for a fourth time this season against Mervue, is not expected to be banned until Wexford make the return trip to Ballybofey in the FAI Cup in early June.
Aside that, Harps’ two main injury concerns at defensive duo Thomas McMonagle and Damian McNulty.
“We left out Tommy and Damian against Derry,” Hutton said. “They’re struggling. We’re trying to manage the situation with Thomas’s foot as best we can and Damian has tendonitis in his knee.
“It wouldn’t have made any sense to play them against Derry. We will just have assess them the longer the week goes on. But a few lads staked a claim so we will see towards the end of the week.”
With the First Division table now starting to take shape, Wexford Youths trail Harps by just three points, 19 to 16, having already drawn 0-0 at Finn Park this season.
Hutton also confirmed that Thomas McBride and Matthew Crossan, who had been given leave for personal reasons and work commitments respectively, have returned to training.
“They weren’t training for different reasons but it’s been sorted out now,” Hutton added. “Any player, no matter who he is, has to be committed both mentally and physically. And if they’re not then they’re no good to us at the club. But we’ve sorted it all out.”